Sally Iggulden, Chief Executive at Beverley Racecourse discusses her journey from Ascot-sponsored BHA Graduate to leading one of the most forward-thinking racecourses in the country, committed to improving accessibility and supporting issues such as loneliness.
Vet, Butcher or the racing industry
As I child, I used to tell my mum that I wanted to be a vet or a butcher when I grew up. I remember her slight look of horror and the flicker in her eyes that she might have raised a future psychopath. Possibly with this in mind, she gently nudged me down the route of a job within the racing industry and I attended Wye College in Kent, where I gained a degree in Agricultural Business Management, following in the footsteps of other illustrious alumni William Derby, Bob Davies and Robert Bellamy.
A good education in the game
In fairness, I didn’t take too much nudging. I had grown up with horses and was always destined to end up working with them one way or another. I had shown early business acumen aged just five when I charged the other children at school 10p to see my pet rabbit during a Bring Your Pet to School session – a clear sign that working in the racecourse world was a good fit! I was lucky enough to be sponsored by Ascot Racecourse on the BHA Graduate Programme and an extended spell at the course cemented my love for the game. Roles at Racenews and the RCA came along and both allowed me to meet many people within the industry, including the then boss of Beverley Racecourse, John Cleverly. I joined Beverley at the start of 2000, and despite seeing it firstly as a stepping stone, I have never felt that my job here is done, and so I am very happy to remain here as Chief Executive.
We believe in giving back
Community is incredibly important to us here at Beverley. We are fortunate to be located in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, sited on Common Land that offers a perfect vista of the Yorkshire Wolds. We see it as our duty to give back to the people and causes local to us, as a custodian of this area. Over the years, we have had a slightly scatter gun approach to community projects and charities, but in recent times we have become much more focused and organized, and have been able to help more people to achieve more.
Tackling pertinent issues in society
One of our 2018 projects was to help bring people together to tackle loneliness. We had all been touched by stories around Christmas of isolation, and as a team decided we would do what we could to create memories and make racing an accessible sport for members of the community – people who might not have a large circle of friends or the support of relatives to take them out and about.
I had been visiting a terminally ill annual badgeholder and we spoke for hours about his visits to Beverley as a young lad. It made me realise just how important the racecourse was to people in the area, not commercially for once, but for being part of the very fabric of people’s lives.
With all this in mind we created a new themed raceday called Bygone Beverley, where we transported the racecourse back to the 1960s. Working alongside Contact the Elderly, we learnt about how we could reach out to isolated people, and arranged relaxed and friendly tea parties on racedays that were free for older people to attend. It was heartwarming to see the response and to see the numbers of people that joined us on the day; everyone was keen to have a natter and reminisce over the old days, when horse racing at Beverley had been a major part of their growing up. We have been so pleased with the response that we intend to involve more people over the winter months by continuing our tea party themes during the closed season, to give people a fun environment to help awaken their memories.
Leading the way by addressing real needs
We are about to embark on the second – and most substantial – phase of our focus for 2019, which is accessibility for disabled groups. We became the first racecourse, possibly the first sporting event to provide a sign language commentary on the big screen for our racing in September, and this is something that we will look to develop further next year. We plan to work closely with the British Deaf Association about making a day at the races an outing of choice and a rich experience for the deaf community. Watch this space – we think it is going to be pioneering!