Thousands of visitors and exhibitors descended on Manchester's Event City for the Christian Resources Exhibition (CRE) during a two-day event.
Europe's leading series of church-based exhibitions offered more than 30 seminars and presentations, and 150 exhibitors. With lots of on-site parking, helpful stewards, multiple toilet facilities, large cafe and a spacious modern building brimming with exciting Christian wares CRE North proved to be an inspirational day out.
After taking just a few steps inside the exhibition hall visitors were being offered free chocolate. David Marshall of the The Meaningful Chocolate Company, which produces Fairtrade products, said: 'It's great to be here in Manchester for CRE North, it's a fabulous venue and everyone is so friendly. For me personally, it's such an encouragement to meet some of our wonderful customers face to face and hear testimonies about how our products have blessed them and the people who receive them as gifts.'
By mid-morning the event had the friendly buzz of a small-town farmer's market. Visitors were mooching along the wide aisles and dipping in and out of the exhibitions. Many were engrossed in conversation with exhibitors, while others were simply chatting with acquaintances. One ordained clergyman I spoke with said he was really impressed with how the event had been set up, another said he had been inspired by learning about the work of different ministries.
Much like a farmer's market, similar types of products and services were grouped logically together. For example exhibitions for Bible courses, schools and colleges were located in the same area. The Study Zone is a brand new initiative at CRE for people of all ages interested in theological education, from short courses to doctorates, summer schools to evening classes, residential or online. Along with a rolling series of short talks every 30 minutes, representatives from eight major UK establishments, including several college principals, were available to discuss options. Rev Ashley Cooper, the principal at Cliff College, said: 'It's great to see what's happening in the theological world and to be inspired by others and to share what we are doing with folk who need to engage with theological education.'
The biggest exhibit at CRE was The Compassion Experience, a unique, interactive presentation of the lives of two children living in poverty in Africa.
Eleven audio visual companies had stands at the exhibition including big players such as B+H Sound and Wigwam. This proved to be very popular with visitors as technical staff were available to answer questions and offer advice and support. Architects and ecclesiastical design companies were also well represented, as were makers of church furniture, who displayed some beautiful examples of craftmanship. As you would expect CRE was a reader's paradise with Bibles, Bible resources and book displays at every turn.
Presentations and seminars took place in two breakaway areas located at either end of the main exhibition hall. A wide range of topics were covered including tips on solving problems with the sound or AV system in your church, mission, evangelism, finding a Christian job, politics, cyber security, church growth, Messy Church, sports ministry, safeguarding and the school syllabus.
Christian Jobs were first-time exhibitors at CRE and they were kept very busy answering questions from a steady stream of visitors. Managing partner James Everall said on Twitter, 'We've had a great first day exhibiting at CRE. It's been fun to highlight all the amazing jobs and organisations we're supporting, meet old friends and make new ones.'
In addition to the many exhibits and breakaway groups visitors took time out in a spacious café and seating area which filled the rear of the hall. An inflatable theatre within the exhibition hall hosted a range of musical artists from Ministry of Music. Rev Cindy Kent interviewed a stream of special guests and Dana opened the event, performed with a children's choir and shared about her life and faith.
CRE organiser Steve Goddard said he was delighted at the numbers attending and at the quality of the exhibitions, adding: 'We've had nothing but praise.' In total 2,310 visitors attended, of whom half of those who pre-registered had never been to a CRE event before.