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01 May 2024

With just one week to go until this year’s Racing Together Community Day, we caught up with Jo Flaherty from Chelmsford City Racecourse to find out what the racecourse is doing this year to support their local community and as inspiration to others. 

I am a huge supporter of Racing Together’s Community Day at Chelmsford City Racecourse. It’s such a great initiative and demonstrates how British racing is committed to giving back. It offers a great opportunity for all of us in the industry to engage with and support the community.

Community role excites me most

My role as head of Customer Service and Membership at Chelmsford City Racecourse brings me enormous satisfaction. However, it is my work with the Community and Charities that excites me the most, and together we have raised over £40,000 for charities since 2021. The work that we do helps raise the profile of charitable organisations and has a tangible impact in the community, reaching people through direct engagement, events, volunteering and introducing people to the world of horseracing who might not otherwise have had the opportunity. 

Community Day extends beyond just helping out in the community, it serves as a platform for raising awareness for charities, building partnerships and uniting teams together with the aim of improving people’s wellbeing. I am continuously seeking volunteers, and our contribution doesn’t have to be limited to the designated day, it is a commitment and pledge to give back when we can.

Power of getting back to nature

Through my work with Community and Charities I have built some incredible relationships across a diverse sector of organisations, as well as with celebrities, sporting heroes and local public figures, including the Mayor of Chelmsford. This year, via the Mayor’s newsletter, I came across a fantastic local charitable organization called The Wilderness Foundation.  Learning about the incredible work that these organisations do also brings me great enjoyment. Originating from South Africa, The Wilderness Foundation supports vulnerable children, teenagers and adults dealing with anxiety and mental health issues through the power of nature. They offer outdoor facilitation adventures and therapy, allowing individuals to connect with the environment around them while also learning about sustainability impacts.

After contacting them offering our volunteering services, a small team of us visited their site to help out. We were blessed with a beautiful sunny day on Friday 26th April, which made the day even more special as the foundation is set in 400 acres of beautiful countryside. 

We spent the morning transporting some woodchip to a clearing in the wilderness used for therapy sessions, and in the afternoon weeding the edge of a raised flower bed (that was donated from the Chelsea Flower show) again adding woodchip around the small trees lining the area. I could have happily dedicated every day to this cause and will definitely be adding it to my personal volunteering list! For someone who loves the outdoors and nature I was completely in my element, and all the staff enjoyed the day and put in some extremely hard graft; I was truly proud of everyone. I can honestly say that new relationships can be built with colleagues you may not normally work closely with, and interesting conversations are to be had that you wouldn’t normally have time for, so it can also double up as a great teambuilding exercise.

Nurturing green shoots for the future

While we were there, a young group of children arrived for an outdoor experience in a woodland area, complete with a campfire, hammocks and tree swing. Seeing this brought me so much joy, as it reinforced the importance of nurturing our future generation, and let’s not forget that the kids of today are our future racegoers. I am deeply passionate about supporting all young people and driving children’s initiatives at the racecourse. We are currently in the middle of planning a kids’ open day and excited about launching a new Kids Club. All these initiatives require some imagination, drive and determination, with collective participation from some great people I have the privilege of working with, as well as support from the racecourse. This approach can also pave the way for more opportunities like Racing to School, a programme of which I am a big advocate.

Carers’ Week going strong

Our ‘Carers’ Week’ initiative was inspired by the Eden Project ‘Month of Communities’, and this is the third consecutive year of championing unpaid carers. I am touched by so many selfless people that give up their time for others and barely have time for themselves. 

To show our appreciation, we offer complimentary tickets to give them the opportunity to enjoy an evening of racing without their dependents. Additionally, we extend invitations to charities within the carer sector to set up stands at the racecourse and are on hand to offer advice and support to anyone that needs it, be it visitors or staff. To support a charity also means helping its beneficiaries, therefore contributing to the community in yet another way.

Personal growth through giving back

Through building relationships and actively reaching out and engaging with others, I have found my confidence has grown.  From my personal experience this has led to a snowball effect with endless ideas and opportunities, and I am continuously looking at new ways to support charities. I have so many ideas going around in my head all the time, working tirelessly to implement as many as possible throughout the year. If my passion and dedication can inspire just one person to give back in even the smallest way, it is truly worthwhile as it becomes contagious, and so rewarding once you witness the impact it can have on people’s lives, with the added personal satisfaction that it brings.

So, I will leave you with one thought… I would encourage everyone to do some research and to connect with their local community. There are endless opportunities to offer your time, with many organisations who need help having volunteering programmes in place ready to welcome you. Any amount of time you can spare will be warmly appreciated, and you are bound to have some fun, meet new people and perhaps even see positive changes to your own lives in the process.

Jo Flaherty was a finalist in the Community Award category at this year’s Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards, sponsored by Godolphin and organised by the BHA (read more about the awards here) and just last month was a panellist on the Racing Together webinar series. 

There is still time to sign up for this year’s Community Day, just follow this link and tell us what you are up to. In the words of a famous British supermarket – “Every Little Helps”.

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