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04 December 2017

“We set up the Aintree Community Programme to use the power of the fantastic sport of horseracing and the Grand National to inspire positive action and experiences for our community.”

John Baker is the Regional Director for Jockey Club Racecourses in the North West. Here he discusses his passion for the Grand National and Aintree’s commitment to community engagement.

I am extremely fortunate and honoured to be able to say that as part of my role I head up the Greatest Race In the World, the Randox Health Grand National. It is a dream come true for me having first been captivated by the race back in 1973. I was five year’s old and my Grandad sat me down in front of the TV and said: ‘you have 10 pence, pick a horse’. I picked one called Red Rum. What ensued is folklore, the gallant Crisp being caught in the shadows of the post by Red Rum. The colour, the spectacle, the noise, the sheer drama had me hooked. That Red Rum should achieve what he did, to become in my mind the greatest horse ever, simply cemented my childhood love of horse racing. The race is most definitely The People’s Race and I see my role and that of my team to give the race and Aintree Racecourse back to the people, and to ensure its future for many more generations to enjoy.

Community engagement is therefore is at the heart of everything that we do at Aintree. We’re fortunate to be based in a fantastic sporting city and have a very passionate and welcoming community around Aintree and the wider Merseyside region. The Grand National has been in their midst for 175 years and I’m sure they are very proud of what the World’s Greatest race and Aintree means to Merseyside. It’s the race that stops the nation and is part of British Sporting Heritage, but it’s also very much a local event for the people of Liverpool.

The Aintree Community Programme was launched in December 2014 at the Becher Chase raceday. We opened the doors for people to come and see Aintree and the Grand National fences for free and to thank them for their support. Since then the programme has gone from strength to strength – we have shaped it into five themes to ensure we focus on the important issues that our community face and so that we’re giving something back that is relevant to their needs. The themes include, Health and Wellbeing, Mental Wellbeing, Riding in the Community and Disability and Community Engagement.

Over the past three years, we have been fortunate enough to forge some fantastic partnerships with some inspiring organisations, such as Everton in the Community, a valued partnership that has grown through the Riding for Disabled activity and Grand National Dementia Tours that we offer. We have an annual jockeys’ visit on the Friday of the Grand National Festival as just part of our relationship with Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. The Riding for Disabled Association benefits from our work with Beechley Stables in Allerton, Liverpool who provide their expertise to ensure we can offer regular and memorable sessions for people with varying disabilities. The education charity Racing to School works with us to deliver the Aintree Beacon Project at Maricourt High School and its connected Primary Schools; and plenty of other schools and organisations are part of our family, such as Archbishop Beck; Holly Lodge School; The Walton Centre; St Vincent’s School for the Blind and many more.

The Barrie Wells Trust is now an official Jockey Club-wide charity and we are honoured to provide free hospitality to children from local hospices and hospitals. We’ve also invested in some Grand National 360 VR headsets, using this technology to inspire and excite many children and adults whether at Aintree or when we take them out to the community.

We’re also delighted and proud to have launched the innovative and state-of-the-art Peter O’Sullevan Community Hub in December 2016, which has provided a long-term focal point for all community activity, so too a funding stream for the Programme to ensure its future. We are so very thankful to the Peter O’Sullevan Trust for allowing this dream to become a reality.

We always want to keep an eye on the future as there is so much to do. We are looking forward to launching next year an initial three-year Programme in support of Military Veterans in our community, in partnership with the Liverpool Military Veterans HQ. This work will help dozens of Veterans and their families, both from physical and mental wellbeing perspectives. We will have more updates on this area of our work, as we plan to link this into a more condensed programme for Invictus Games participants in our region.

We can’t achieve anything without the help, cooperation and enthusiasm of others, and so we were delighted to win the Racecourse Association’s Showcase Community & CSR Award for a third consecutive year. I can’t tell you how much it means to us to gain recognition for this work but also the wider endorsement for its importance as part of the racecourse’s business. I’d like to thank everyone at Aintree and our partners for making this happen – and, of course, to the other competing racecourses whose excellent campaigns pushed us so hard. We look forward to defending our crown next year!

My simple message is that Aintree’s doors are open for everyone in the community. Come and meet our people behind this work; they are so passionate about the programme and serving a community that has served Aintree so well over the years.

Please click here for the new Aintree Community Programme video

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