Working to highlight the hard graft of racing’s frontline staff through arranging the Godolphin Stud & Stable Staff Awards, and committed to volunteering roles close to her heart, BHA Executive PA Vanessa Safo is passionate about finding rewarding ways to help others.
I have been a PA at the British Horseracing Authority for just over six years and I knew immediately after my first interview for a temping job that I was meant to be here.
My first memories of racing are watching it with my Grandad when I was just knee high. He was a racing man through and through and even as a four-year-old he would have me help him pick a horse for his regular Sunday bet. The family would always congregate at my Grandad’s house for the Grand National, as we knew he would always have the winner! Years later I knew he’d be over the moon when I ended up working in racing.
I studied acting at university and my other great passion is sport – the best thing about working in this world is that you are surrounded by passion, excitement and drama every day!
I started out at the BHA as a receptionist and was promoted to a personal assistant looking after two Directors, which I have been doing for the last 4 years. My work has given me a bird’s-eye view of what the sport does and is capable of doing for others.
I have been involved in racing’s annual volunteer days over the last few years. I had a fantastic experience helping out the charity Greatwood, which cares for former racehorses and runs educational programmes to help inspire students with special education needs. We were tasked with replanting their gardens for an Open day. I was blown away by the turnaround in the young people they support who are experiencing difficulties in life; very often they are unable to attend mainstream school. Greatwood is a lifeline to them and they really do change their lives. Working with, and being around horses has an extraordinary effect on them. On another occasion I really enjoyed participating at an inner city school’s sports’ day – the young people reacted really well to the opportunity to take part in the range of sports we put together. Best of all, it was rewarding to see them gradually put their guards down as the day went on.
I am currently organising volunteering opportunities for BHA staff to take part in this year’s Racing Together’s Community Day on May 11th – a chance for everyone in the sport to join together and find ways to help others. We have another event planned at Greatwood and I have also set up a day with Age Concern, where my colleagues will do some gardening at their Hampstead day centre, followed by lunch with several of their beneficiaries.
Being part of Community engagement projects through my work is important to me, as it is part of my life away from the office, too. I am a regular volunteer with Crisis at Christmas and for the past three years I have spent Christmas Day and Boxing Day with them at the centre on Grays Inn Road in London. This is always extra special as a lot of the guests I spend Christmas with are homeless people from the area near my office, and it is nice to be able to help them in some small way. I also volunteer with Age concern as a befriender to Dementia sufferers so, again, it is great to partner up with them for Racing Together’s community day, and for us to support a charity that is local.
Although I will soon be leaving the BHA to take up a role with the British Olympic Association, I am proud of the work I have been involved in over the last six years. I think without doubt my proudest achievement would be my work on the last three Stud and Stable Staff Awards. It has been a huge part of my life despite the sleepless nights. It’s just a joy to get to know the nominees and put on such a special evening of recognition for them.
When I leave one great sport to join the world of Team GB, I know that I will miss racing and the many great colleagues and friends I have made here and across the sport. I will take lots of fun memories and will continue to support racing as a spectator, just like I did with Grandad in the early days!