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The show must go on – for all of our sakes

This is set to be a fascinating year for the sector for many reasons: the imminent Defra 25-year environment plan, looming circular economy directives and the proposed resource and waste strategy will keep us all busy.

Just as intriguing will be what happens to RWM now it has been sold. The NEC event has been an unusual hybrid for some time. Following the merger of two separate ‘trade shows’ in 2011, it was a commercial partnership between the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) and events specialist i2i, a division of what for the past three years has been known as Ascential, formerly Emap.

On 29 December, Ascential sold its share of the show to the Prysm Group, which already has a stable of 30-odd events. Crucial to the deal was the agreement of the CIWM, and chief executive Colin Church has spoken enthusiastically of a greater potential to boost a fixture which has struggled in recent years.

Visitor numbers have dropped from more than 13,000 in recent years to possibly less than 10,000, while dedicated floor space has contracted – or been creatively rearranged. Revenue was also down: I understand it dropped from around £5.5m in 2016 to less than £4m last year. RWM was never a core, loved event for Ascential.

Much effort was expended by i2i in early 2017 to rebrand RWM but to little discernible effect. Visitor and exhibitor feedback did not appear to improve markedly, certainly not enough for its former owners.

Prysm’s initial comments on the future of the event are unsurprisingly upbeat but perhaps with reason. When RWM was under Ascential’s ownership – as MRW was until the summer – I found it hard to understand why the show (and MRW come to that) was not used as the foundation of a ‘sustainability unit’, offering specialist help to sister titles and other Ascential brands (and external ones) whose customers are increasingly having to recognise and respond to the demands of resource efficiency. These sectors included, among others, construction, local government, fashion, engineering and the NHS.

But that did not fit, and now Prysm has the chance to match that thinking to its own portfolio of events, including land remediation and contamination - which will be co-sited alongside RWM at the NEC.

Regardless of the history, and whether the recent direction of RWM has been listless, the waste and resource sector needs a vibrant event like this to showcase the innovation and best practice that has been the hallmark of the industry’s development during the past five decades.

We wish Prysm and CIWM well in reasserting RWM as the go-to event in the business calendar.

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