Sharing the loyalty of a City synonymous with football success and heritage, the team at Aintree racecourse is equally aware of the difficulty of retaining success at the top level. Such is the challenge facing Grant Rowley and his colleagues that drive the Community Programme, as they strive to hold onto the crown as winners of the RCA Community & Corporate Social Responsibility Award.
As Communications Manager for Jockey Club Racecourses in the North West, am I part of a team that is lucky to work on the Grand National. It’s an annual race and sporting event that stops the nation for 10-15 minutes at 5.15pm on Grand National Day and captures the imagination of millions of people across the UK. The race is most definitely The People’s Race. We see our roles at Aintree as a way to give back to the community of Liverpool as they support us so well – it’s very much their race.
Community engagement, therefore, is at the heart of everything that we do. We’re fortunate to be based in a fantastic sporting city and have a very passionate and welcoming community around Aintree. The Grand National has been in their midst for 175 years and I’m sure they are very proud of what the race and Aintree means to Merseyside.
We set up the Aintree Community Programme to use the power of the fantastic sport of horseracing and the Grand National to inspire good in our community. We launched the programme in December 2014 and since then it has gone from strength to strength – we shaped it into three themes to ensure we focus on the important issues that our community face.
The themes are Health and Wellbeing, Community Engagement and Education and Enterprise.
Over the past four years, we have been fortunate enough to forge some fantastic partnerships with some inspiring organisations such as Everton in the Community that is arguably the most respected and impactful programmes in sport. Our partnership has grown through the Riding for Disabled activity and Grand National Dementia Tours that we offer; The Barrie Wells Trust who are an official Jockey Club-wide charity and where we provide free hospitality to children from local hospices and hospitals. We offer the same to The Carer’s Network that has a pool of 1,500 carers who do some incredible things. Alder Hey Children’s Hospital is where we have an annual jockey visit on the Friday of the Grand National Festival as well as regular support and visits outside of that day. It’s an amazing place, full of amazing people.
We also work with plenty of other schools partnerships and organisations such as Archbishop Beck, Blessed Sacrament School, Holly Lodge School, The Walton Centre, Liverpool John Moores University and many more. A new community centre that we’ve recently started to support is Netherton Community Centre – only a mile from Aintree, the centre is the ‘rock’ of the community but very underfunded. Aintree has helped with continuous maintenance and groundsmen work and has provided hospitality to thank them for the great work they do for children from difficult backgrounds.
However, one of our new programmes that has been really beneficial to the participants is our Military Veterans Programme in partnership with Liverpool Veterans HQ. Over the past year, 26 military veterans from around Aintree have enjoyed a monthly session, which has really helped with specific mental and physical difficulties and to bring back the camaraderie and banter they enjoyed in the armed forces. Each session differed but included golf lessons at the Aintree Golf centre, Grand National fence tours, cooking classes, cycling with British Cycling and much more. The plan is to extend this further and also aim to provide paid work at racecourses.
The Racing Together Beacon Racecourse activity at Maricourt School and its nearby Primary Schools has been a real highlight and continues to go to thrive. It’s a fantastic programme and I’m honoured to work on the steering group for the sport’s community work (Racing Together), which is chaired by the marvellous Morag Gray – a Trustee of the charities Racing Welfare and Racing to School. We’re delighted that due to the success of the Aintree pilot programme, Racing to School has received further funding from The Racing Foundation to continue the work for a further three years. It’s such an important programme, which has reached, educated and hopefully inspired several thousand young people in our community in recent years.
All of this has been made much easier by having the innovative and state-of-the-art Peter O’Sullevan Community Hub, which we launched in December 2016. It provides a long term focal point for all community activity. We are very thankful to the Peter O’Sullevan Trust for supporting us to make this happen.
To celebrate the community and the programme, each November we hold the Aintree Community Day, which really showcases the programme and its partners and has a large military focus through remembrance. It’s a great day and one that will only grow in years to come.
The key is to make sure people know that they can come and enjoy Aintree and the wider work of racing outside of racedays, as well as enjoy the excitement of the meetings themselves. We’re very much here to serve the community that has served Aintree so well over the years and for us to ensure the future of the Grand National and racing for many more generations to enjoy.
Please click here for the new Aintree Community Programme video with Sir AP McCoy