Cheltenham improving accessibility for all

COMING up, Cheltenham and Aintree, the two biggest jumps festivals in Britain. The eyes of the racing world will be trained not just on the horses and jockeys but also on customer facilities, and Jockey Club Racecourses have paid extra attention to the needs of disabled racegoers in their preparations.

The Racecourse Association is in the final stages of collating responses to a survey carried out last autumn among all members, which were asked detailed questions about individual accessibility for racegoers with physical, sensory and mental impairments.

The survey sought to focus on five key areas: ensuring that each racecourse has conducted audits, is working with partners, is guaranteeing best practice, conducts adequate staff training, and makes clear on its website what facilities are on offer.

RCA Communications Executive Will Aitkenhead explains: “We think these five areas are comprehensive and the responses will enable us to see which courses are doing things well and which may need our help, using the best practice that others have implemented. It’s a strategy we’ve used in other areas of general customer service, and all the racecourses are on board.”

The survey was compiled with Level Playing Field, the national charity dedicated to breaking down barriers for disabled people attending sports stadia and venues by ensuring that sites are fully accessible and inclusive.

Aitkenhead adds: “Level Playing Field previously worked with us on updating our guidance for racecourses. They are able to look at things in a way that the average operations manager might not, and they have experience not just of sports stadia but leisure venues in general, which is important because we want racecourses to be comparable with what people encounter on the high street, if not better.”

Cheltenham and Aintree have taken guidance from Level Playing Field and worked with similar agencies, alongside benchmarking their accessibility against other sporting and leisure venues. Here we talk to Ian Renton from Cheltenham about their approach to providing first-class accessibility.

Ian Renton, Regional Director, Cheltenham & The South West for Jockey Club Racecourses

Accessibility featured in every aspect of building the new stand, which was completed in November 2015, and I think we’ve achieved that on every single level. There isn’t one part of the building that is not accessible, right down to the fine detail, such as providing a ramp near the Best Mate statue and putting in a platform lift when we created the crescent walkway.

New regulations were on the horizon when we were examining the design, so we took account of these alongside incorporating existing regulations. The architects Roberts Limbrick led on that aspect; then we approached Level Playing Field, with whom our operations manager David Mackinnon has a very good relationship.

One example of working with Level Playing Field, who were very helpful over signage in particular, is that the season before last we asked one of their experts to come to a briefing for all the hundreds of casual staff we employ at the Festival. You can have all the facilities, but if the customer care is not in place, it can let you down.

Aside from everything we did in the new stand, we’ve since renewed and improved two of our disabled viewing platforms and there is a programme in place to do more.

A couple of years ago Sophia Dale, our Regional Communications Manager, undertook a major benchmarking exercise on accessibility, speaking to several other major sporting venues, including Wimbledon, Wembley and Lord’s, and we also took a lot of advice from Ascot, since they had gone through a similar rebuilding programme.

Sophia found she didn’t always get through immediately to the person who managed this aspect of customer service, so she took it on in the first place at Cheltenham, and now Sarah Hooper, who’s in our membership department, is responsible for this aspect. Everyone in the office is aware that she is the person who deals with inquiries in this area.

We also have a dedicated accessibility page on our website, which details the range of facilities to enable racegoers with disabilities to get the most from their day at the races, and an email address,, for people to apply for the free ticket we give to a carer. We took advice from the RCA on the paperwork we require, which is based on that issued by the Department for Work and Pensions.

It’s a learning process dealing with some parts of the disabled community, but over the course of the year we talk to our customers and their feedback has been really useful. If something hasn’t worked on a raceday, listening to people is a way we can improve as a venue, and we’ve made changes as a result, whether the feedback has been positive or negative.

It’s a moving area, and it’s moved a very long way in a fairly short time, but the figures demonstrate that our approach works, because whereas a few years ago we would have two or three regular disabled racegoers, we now have more than 20 a day.