Rory Palmer is a member of the Racing Together subcommittee and sits on the BHA’s Diversity & Inclusion Steering Group. Previously an MEP, he now works in public policy and campaigns. He writes in a personal capacity about racing’s chance to support this generation of young people.
Every child regardless of their background has a right to enjoy sport, time outdoors and the widest range of extra-curricular activities: from the arts to music and more. Enriching experiences outside the classroom are vital in supporting childhood development, in equipping young people with valuable ‘soft skills’ like leadership and communication and can help inspire and motivate positive engagement with the curriculum and learning inside the classroom.
Sadly, in recent years for many young people these opportunities have diminished. Cuts to school and local authority budgets mean reduced extra-curricular activities. Today’s economic situation will widen inequalities meaning increasing numbers of young people will find exciting and enriching out-of-school activities beyond their reach. Added to this, the Covid-19 pandemic meant home-learning through lockdown, but it also meant a school year without school trips and vastly curtailed opportunities for young people to explore and learn new skills away from the formal curriculum.
Many of us will have fond memories of school trips. A packed lunch, a coach journey to a farm park or a museum, a theatre trip or perhaps further afield to the coast for some geography field work. Thinking back – or trying to, it’s quite a number of years to rewind – all of these trips provided good and warm memories and time with friends. Importantly, they were also experiences full of opportunities to learn new things and explore broaden horizons.
I went to a comprehensive school but was lucky to have teachers and a school committed to finding ways to provide affordable and enriching opportunities to supplement our classroom learning. I’ve always believed these such opportunities should be universal: every child and young person should be able to enjoy these experiences and benefit from the learning and inspiration they provide.
Sport has power and opportunity
In recent years I’ve suggested sports’ national governing bodies should be far more generous with free ticketing for school children, particularly where fixtures don’t sell out. Every young person who has attended a live sporting event whether it be horseracing, football, rugby, cricket and so on will remember for the rest of their lives what and where it was; what the score was and what it meant to them to be there.
I believe more needs to be done to ensure every school child can visit the countryside and the coast, to learn about the important natural habitats we find there and the role they play in our national life; environmentally, economically and culturally. Giving children and young people the chance to explore the world beyond their local area can help drive up aspirations – sowing seeds of exciting future possibilities.
It is in this context that I believe the work of Racing Together and Racing to School is so important. Racing to School is a fantastic industry endeavour, giving school children the chance to visit a racecourse as part of a structured day with cross-curriculum learning and the opportunity to develop and explore a wide range of important skills. Introducing children to racing – a sport with special place in our national sporting story – in this way, with an integral focus on education and learning is an innovation other sports should study closely. Horseracing can link into pretty much every part of the school curriculum: maths, literacy, geography, history, science and so on.
Diversity of spectators and workforce
In 2019, Racing to School engaged with over 15,000 young people and this year celebrates its 20th anniversary. If just a small fraction – although it’s likely far more – of those young people returned to school after their Racing to School day enthused about a new piece of knowledge or by something they’d learnt, then that is really powerful social impact.
And that social impact is the driver of this activity and it’s why I am pleased to be contributing to the work of the new Racing Together Sub-Committee.
Engaging young people through Racing to School days or wider Racing Together initiatives may well inspire more young people to come back to the racecourse with their parents or grandparents and to consider career options within and around the sport; and this is important to help racing’s endeavours to bring new audiences into the enclosures and to diversify its spectator base and workforce.
Racing’s purpose in society
Developing an exciting social impact, community engagement and educational vision across racing is important. It sends a powerful and important message about racing’s sense of community spirit and social purpose – a sport serious about making a wider and positive contribution to local communities and society.
Racing to School and Racing Together have exciting plans for the coming months, supporting racecourses and the wider racing network to build new links with communities, to contribute to efforts to improve societal health and wellbeing and to invest in and inspire the next generation. These traits may challenge some widely held stereotypes of racing, and that’s no bad thing either.
A new national mission is needed to give this generation of children and young people the widest possible range of opportunities to learn, to explore and develop new skills inside the classroom and outside the classroom. There’s a significant challenge around educational catch-up after the lockdown disruptions to learning. Every sector and every sport has a responsibility to do its bit to support this generation of children and young people. Building on the programme’s impact and work to date, Racing to School can and should set the pace.