Racing Volunteers Support National Effort to battle Coronavirus Impact

29th April 2020

Up and down the country volunteers from the horse racing industry have been pulling together to help key workers and those most affected by the coronavirus crisis.

An integral part of this has been supporting the NHS, with activities ranging from racing volunteers driving medical professionals to hospitals and offering racecourse property as accommodation for NHS staff.

We heard from just a few of these volunteers across the country who are doing what they can to give back to the community, with examples of a teenager raising money for a local charity and the National Horseracing Museum lending their 3D printer to produce PPE.

Carol Nickels, Pontefract Racecourse

Carol Nickels, admin manager at Pontefract Racecourse, has been volunteering for NHS Volunteer Responders after being furloughed last month. She has been answering the call for various people who require it in the area she lives, during the coronavirus crisis.

“I was furloughed and after seeing the opportunity with the NHS Volunteer Responders, I knew straight away that I wanted to get out there and help other people,” Nickels said.

“I’ve been up to pick up prescriptions for elderly people that can’t leave the house, and have also been on the phone to someone who has been struggling mentally and with anxiety during the lockdown, to put their mind at rest.

“This period has been difficult for me; my family live in Liverpool and it’s not possible to see them. However, it has not affected me in a big way in a comparison to others, and it feels really good to be able to support other people and give back to the community that I live in.”

Claira Miesegaes, Great British Racing International

Claira Miesegaes a communications and events executive at Great British Racing International, has been involved in the weekly delivery of meals with charity Food4Heroes which is cooking and delivering 50,000 meals each day by across the country.

Miesegaes said: “We have been so impressed by the speed at which the scheme was initiated and is expanding, all thanks to the kindness of its supporters; from Tudor Hall School supplying a kitchen, to Ice Valley who have donated over 10,000 bottles of water, to the celebrities who have used their social platforms to promote Food4Heroes, including Graham Norton and Jodie Whittaker.

Chris Stickels, Ascot Racecourse

Ascot Racecourse has a team of 16 volunteers helping to drive medical professionals and supplies to and from hospital sites within Berkshire including Frimley Park, Wexham and Heatherwood, while adhering to social distancing at all times.

One of the volunteers, Chris Stickels, who is clerk of the course at Ascot Racecourse, said: “I have found the attitude of the NHS staff I have driven really humbling. They are working so hard in such difficult circumstances, yet they just get on with the job.

“One nurse I collected was so happy on her way home because it was the first night in what she said seemed like ages that they had no new admissions to the Covid-19 ward she worked on. She said they had six available beds in there when she went home and that was a first too.

“I have heard some sad news, too, and some talk about being scared, but they generally smile, laugh and chat away and they are so grateful for us driving them. I am just pleased to be able to help even if only in a very minor way.”

Newbury Racecourse

Newbury Racecourse has launched a partnership with Age Concern Newbury & District and Swift Couriers, to feed the most vulnerable elderly in West Berkshire during the COVID-19 crisis.

The racecourse are pledging their support to the initiative by providing a Meals on Wheels hub in a contained and dedicated area of the site, using the available kitchens, chefs and volunteers to support the escalating number of vulnerable people who require the service, as well as donating £1,000 worth of food from their existing supplies.

Julian Thick, chief executive of Newbury Racecourse, said: “We want to play our part as much as we possibly can for the most vulnerable groups within our local community and we are fortunate to have a lot of space and resource to allow us to assist with a coordinated and safe response to the unprecedented situation we all find ourselves in.

“Working closely with the team at Age Concern Newbury & District, Swift Couriers as well as the NHS West Berkshire CCG, hopefully we can ease some of the pressure on the current services across the borough and provide much needed meals to the most vulnerable."

Louise Harwood, Goodwood Racecourse

Louise Harwood, who manages Goodwood Racecourse’s 4,100 or so annual members, made it her mission to be in touch personally with every single one of the racecourse’s 184 members over the age of 80 to offer help and support. In cases, this has meant going to the supermarket on their behalf, in others it has simply meant being at the end of the phone to make the member feel less lonely.

In one instance, an elderly member was having trouble with the computer, meaning that it was impossible to keep in touch via email and do online shopping. Louise enlisted the help of Goodwood Racecourse’s IT team, who were able to fix the problem by speaking with the member over the phone and giving the necessary assistance.

Palace House Newmarket 

The National Horse Racing Museum has loaned its 3D printer to a local Bottisham-based engineering student, Georgie Altham, to produce face masks for the NHS and local care homes.

Altham said: "The printer lent by Palace House is the best one I've worked with – and will be printing approximately 30 masks a day. I am also making PPE mask frames to donate to the NHS (currently MAGPAS air ambulance and Ipswich hospital) using my 3D printer and I was looking for more printers which would allow me to increase production so that we can donate as many as possible as quickly as we can. Everyone who we have donated to has been so grateful to have proper PPE.”

Tom Dunlop

Tom Dunlop, son of trainer Harry, has been using his one hour of allocated exercise per day to run the all-weather gallops of Lambourn in order to raise money for the Lambourn Riding for the Disabled Association.

The 14-year-old has now completed all 25 miles of the Jockey Club estates but has continued his fundraising by moving to the private gallops of local Lambourn trainers. This morning he covered 2019/20 Champion Jump Trainer Nicky Henderson’s gallops at Seven Barrows.

You can donate to charity to support’s Tom’s efforts via the link here.

York Racecourse

York Racecourse has been playing its part with several initiatives to support a community that has been its home since 1731.

The Stableside part of the organisation, which usually provides accommodation for stable staff, has switched its focus to offer NHS staff a place to stay. Some NHS staff are facing the extra challenge of being isolated from their own families, sometimes by travel distance or perhaps because their own household has vulnerable members. They need somewhere to sleep, have a meal and find a space to recharge their batteries, which is where Stableside has been able to help. This is being done whilst respecting the social distancing protocols and so the wellbeing of the small team and their guests.

York Racecourse is also well known for its floral displays. Sadly racegoers will not get to enjoy them this May, so rather than waste the blooms, some 8,000 pansies, grown from seedling by the track’s gardeners, have been given away to the public who naturally use the Knavesmire for their permitted exercise.