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14 February 2022

Autism in Racing’s First Year an Industry Success

  • First year of Autism in Racing was a popular addition to horseracing’s commitment to diversity and inclusion following funding from the Racing Foundation and Sir Peter O’Sullevan Trust.
  • 82 individuals attended bespoke autism-friendly events in 2021 with 96% indicating they would return.
  • 170 employees within British Horseracing completed Racing2Learn e-module on autism.
  • Partnerships formed with Autism Education Trust and Immersive Interactive.

Autism in Racing celebrated its first year with a clear mandate from its beneficiaries to continue as revealed by the programme’s pilot evaluation. Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world. One in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.

Autism in Racing was funded by both the Racing Foundation and Sir Peter O’Sullevan Trust with project management by Racing Together and the Racecourse Association (RCA). The initiative was established by its founder Bobby Beevers to educate British Horseracing’s workforce about autism and engage those living with autism with horseracing.

The educational element of Autism in Racing’s pilot year was offered by a new e-learning module on autism hosted by the sport’s online learning platform Racing2Learn. The short course, independently ratified by the Autism Education Trust, has so far been completed by 170 employees within British Horseracing and will continue to be promoted as a learning opportunity for anybody working within the sport.

British Horseracing’s commitment to diversity and inclusion obliges key stakeholders to continue to offer multiple pathways for anybody to engage with the sport. Autism in Racing did this by hosting a series of autism-friendly events at racecourses and a racing yard to welcome families living with autism.

Racedays at Doncaster, Haydock Park and Musselburgh Racecourses were made possible through core funding from the Racing Foundation, whilst an additional day at Aintree Racecourse was supported by supplementary funding from the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Trust. The racedays comprised of a bespoke package from Autism in Racing to the beneficiaries detailing a comprehensive sensory guide, visual story of the venue, Autism in Racing activity bag (including ear protectors, sensory toys, educational materials and racecard) and exclusive use of a sensory room hosted in partnership with Immersive Interactive.

In total, 82 individuals were welcomed, which included family groups and accompanied school visits. 66% of the beneficiaries indicated that they had not previously engaged with the sport of horseracing and following their visits, 96% said they would return if Autism in Racing facilities were present. All elements of the Autism in Racing engagement events scored a minimum of 86% approval rating with the contents of the Autism in Racing activity bag (98%), pre-event communication from the racecourse/Autism in Racing (96%) and the effectiveness of the sensory room (94%) scoring highest.

Following the success of its pilot year, the Autism in Racing Steering Group (comprised of representatives from Racing Together, RCA, British Horseracing Authority (BHA), horseracing media and Arsenal FC) will consider the learnings to develop an extended plan for 2022, which will maintain at its core the ambition to connect people with the sport of horseracing.

Bobby Beevers, founder of Autism in Racing, commented: “I’m very proud of what we have all achieved in phase 1. It was 18 months ago that I approached Annamarie Phelps with the idea for the project and the help and support from both inside and outside of the sport has been phenomenal. A huge thank you to Racing Together, the RCA and the BHA for their hard work and support.

“I would also like to thank my amazing wife, Rachelle, and my two wonderful children Sophia and Riley, who have supported me with the project and my own personal journey with autism. It was Sophia Beevers that inspired Autism in Racing when she was diagnosed with autism in the first lockdown.”

Paul Swain, Raceday Experience & Communications Manager at the RCA commented: “The RCA is immensely proud to have played a role in delivering the pilot year of Autism in Racing. We have provided our beneficiaries with a safe, enjoyable family experience and hopefully will welcome them back as racing fans in the future. The initiative has also allowed industry stakeholders to learn about autism—a subject that was not previously covered in any industry training.

“The evidence from our beneficiaries gives great optimism that Autism in Racing can grow and be even more ambitious in future. My sincere thanks to the Racing Foundation and Sir Peter O’Sullevan Trust in allowing us to pilot this invaluable initiative plus the racecourses in hosting and all who have given their time to make the project a reality.”

Lucy Gurney, Community Engagement Manager at Racing Together commented: “We are humbled by the response from beneficiaries so far to the Autism in Racing pilot. This year has taught us more about the power of the initiative to help people and to include them in the sport. We are looking forward to developing the programme further next year in collaboration with partners, funders and stakeholders across the sport.”

Rob Hezel, Chief Executive of the Racing Foundation, commented : “The Autism in Racing pilot year is an example of what can be achieved through industry collaboration.

“To have individuals and families attend a day’s racing when they have previously felt unable to has given us the opportunity to showcase our fantastic sport to a new audience. If we are serious about growing the diversity of our sport then we must seize the opportunity of the pilot and go on to develop a strategic response to widening access.

“The Racing Foundation has been proud to fund the pilot year and would like to congratulate the project team on delivering their objectives and bringing the sport another step closer to being accessible to everyone.”

Find out more about the programme and get in touch here.

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