The future of the annual young farmers' convention has been thrown into doubt today after organisers admitted some of the behaviour on show was ‘appalling’.
Thousands of young farmers came to Blackpool to join the many families and other tourists on what was one of the hottest early May bank aholidays on record.
But while the event, held at the Winter Gardens and celebrated in bars across the resort, brought a welcome cash injection, the sight of drunken debauchery and petty criminality sparked anger amongst residents.
Video clips posted online, which had amassed 120,000 views by yesterday afternoon, showed revellers in convention-related shirts appearing to take car keys from inside a car, attacking a passing motorist, lying in front of traffic, and chanting expletives.
And there were numerous tales of drunk party-goers urinating in public, throwing up, and passing out, leading one senior councillor to ask, ‘Is it really worth it?’
James Eckley, chief officer at the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC), said the federation was ‘disappointed about the appalling behaviour of some people who came to Blackpool over the bank holiday weekend when we hosted our annual convention’.
He said the majority of the more than 6,000 farmers ‘respected the town, its residents, and businesses’, and said those caught on camera aiming kicks at passing cars, stealing keys, and lying in front of traffic, face being kicked out.
And he warned: “Sadly, the viability of this weekend is now under scrutiny by NFYFC due to the reckless actions of a few.”
Coun Tony Williams, opposition leader at the council, had pleaded with young farmers to be on their best behaviour after two high-profile crimes when the conference was last held in Blackpool in 2016: A young woman jumping on top of an ambulance, and the theft of a five-year-old disabled boy’s bike from Market Street.
But after branding those caught on camera as ‘mindless idiots’, he said: “We need to make a decision about whether or not it’s worth it. There’s such a high price to pay.”
While he said the town welcomed the cash the event brings in – estimated to top £4 million, plus £50,000 raised for charity – he said numerous reports from residents of loutish drunkenness meant ‘we can’t continue with this’.
“The organisers have to look towards their own members and say if they misbehave, they will be driven out of town,” he added.
A number of video clips were posted to Facebook by Alex Miklos. One showed a group of people dressed as orange cones walking in front of traffic in Market Street, purportedly at around 7.30pm on Saturday.
It isn’t known where the gang hails from, but many of those watching on, some taking pictures and videos, were wearing convention shirts.
The clip showed the group waving their arms as taxis and other motorists swerved around them and, at one point, one man pretends to have been hit as a crowd gathers and a bus sounds its horn.
In a separate piece of footage, a reveller reaches inside a car, which had slowed down against a backdrop of women chanting expletives, and appears to grab the keys.
He throws them across the road before shoving the driver after he climbs out to retrieve them.
Shortly after, one man lies in the road while another boots a passing silver Jaguar with an audible thud after first aiming a kick through the driver’s door window.
A further video showed women scaling a pole as people dance in the street.
The footage attracted a flood of comments.
Sarah Hogg said: “I’m all for having a good time but that’s just childish. What stupid people you really are. You’re animals let loose.”
Michelle McCabe added: “Inept idiots that clearly don’t know how life normally works.”
And Greg Emery said: “Why do they think they can come to our town and do this? Every year it’s the locals that have to pick up the pieces.”
The weekend divides hoteliers, however, with some welcoming the revenue they bring, and others criticising it for damaging Blackpool’s family-friendly reputation.
Chris Moorhouse, of The Avon Hotel on Albert Road, said he refuses to take bookings from young farmers.
He said: “There was a lot of disruption on the street. They were stopping cars, playing loud music constantly, and picnic tables and furniture was taken on to the pavements so families had to walk into the road to get past.
“There was also paint thrown onto the street.
“We haven’t taken bookings from young farmers for the last few years, and we had a lot of families completely put off Blackpool because of it.
“It’s manic, and we are meant to be trying to get away from this image Blackpool portrays.”
Adrian Smurthwaite of The Albany Hotel, also on Albert Road, said he had a group of 30 young farmers from the Cotswolds staying.
He said: “Yes, they are high-spirited and boisterous, but I made £5,000 in a weekend and you can’t do that any other time of year.
“I heard of some bars which took £200,000 and some hotels will have smashed all records.
“But I think the council should consider introducing more marshalling and it would be better if the young farmers didn’t come here on a bank holiday weekend when we would be busy anyway.”
Peter Sedgwick, owner of all three piers, said: "We had a lot of young farmers in the new pirate bar on Central Pier and they were fabulous.
"They spent their money and enjoyed themselves.
"Blackpool doesn't have the stag and hens any more, but we can't keep turning people away because businesses depend on them.
"And when they are older, they will bring their own families here."
Tony Banks, of Blackpool Promotions, had 280 rooms in three hotels – the Royal Alexandra and the Ruskin on Albert Road, and the Royal Seabank on the Promenade – booked to young farmers.
He said: “They are free spirited young people who have come to enjoy themselves in a town built for fun.
“It’s probably worth more than £4m to us as a town.
“We made sure we managed the situation responsibly, with managers meeting our guests and ensuring there was a repartee with them.
“I don’t mix them with the families we have visiting, and I have already blocked off three hotels for the young farmers next year.”
But taxi chiefs described the behaviour of some of the young farmers as ‘unacceptable’ and said some vehicles were damaged.
Bill Lewtas, secretary of the Blackpool Licensed Taxi Operators Association, said: “The behaviour of many of the young farmers was totally unacceptable.
“Some of our other visitors were appalled and could not believe that we encourage these people to come here. A number of taxis were damaged.
“If we are to continue hosting this event then I would hope that the police will take firmer action to deter this.
“Use of roadside barriers should be used at the busier venues to keep anti-social behaviour away from vehicles.
“Also, this was poor timing. They should be discouraged from coming here on a bank holiday.”
Mr Eckley from the NFYFC, said its code of conduct, which it asks its members to adhere to, is printed into the convention programme notes, communicated through presentations in advance of the event, and displayed throughout Blackpool.
“Anyone proven to be acting against this policy can no longer be a member,” he said.
“The annual convention is where NFYFC hosts its annual general meeting, national competition finals, and an agricultural debates.
“Many of our members choose to fundraise on the way to the convention and this year raised £50,000 for local charities, on top of the £1.2m raised last year for good causes.”
BBC Radio One DJ Scott Mills, and Chris Stark, performed on Saturday night, when around 5,000 young farmers dressed in glow-in-the-dark outfits, while English rugby union player James Haskell played on the Sunday.
A police spokesman said there would be ‘extra resources in the town centre’ at the weekend to ‘make sure everyone enjoys themselves safely’, with PCSOs and horseback officers spotted on the Prom.
In a statement posted to Facebook, the NFYFC’s chairman Lynsey Martin said she was ‘really sad, disappointed, and ashamed’ at the videos being widely shared.
“The people intimidating members of the public in this video are not representative of members of the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs and should not be allowed to our wear our YFC logo,” she said.
“Their membership will be removed if they are identified as YFC members.
“On behalf of the federation, I apologise that some people who came to Blackpool this weekend because of our convention have chosen to behave so appallingly.
“The actions of a few have tarnished the reputation of so many.”
She asked for information revealing the identity of the people caught on camera to be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Coun Gillian Campbell, deputy leader of Blackpool Council, said: “We have made it very clear to the Young Farmers' Association in the past that we cannot and will not accept inappropriate behaviour.
“Blackpool is a family resort and our main aim has to be to protect our visitors and ensure that our residents can enjoy their own town centre without being subjected to some of the scenes that have been witnessed this weekend.
“We are seeking urgent discussions with the organisers to try to understand how this has been allowed to happen. If there is going to be a return visit then it will need to come with some very clear guarantees."