This weeks blog is brought to you courtesy of the Racecourse Association, who kindly wrote a piece on our grounds team to highlight the hard work they carry out all year round as part of the Grounds Management Association #GroundsWeek campaign!
#GroundsWeek2023 – Turf and More at Pontefract Racecourse
The Racecourse Association (RCA) is proud to once again be joining the Grounds Management Association (GMA) to celebrate #GroundsWeek, a campaign dedicated to recognising the hard work and commitment of grounds teams across the country.
As part of #GroundsWeek Richard Hammill, Chief Operating Officer and Clerk of the Course at Pontefract Racecourse, discusses how the grounds team have come together to tackle more than just turf in the run up to their 2023 season opener on Tuesday 11th April.
“We have always had a strong sense of togetherness and local pride amongst the team at Pontefract. The office staff are always happy to pitch in and get involved on racedays and this sense of responsibility and ownership is something we wanted to extend to our ground staff too.
“In 2022 we hosted the RCA Showcase & Awards. To host a major industry awards was a significant undertaking for us and required a complete transformation of the site, including a marquee build on the track itself! Our hard-working grounds team played a vital role in this process and we wanted them to continue to get involved across the wider site as we prepared to welcome racegoers in 2023.
“Naturally, turf management is at the heart of what our ground staff do. Pontefract is the longest continuous flat racing circuit in Europe so there is plenty of turf for the team to manage! After our season closer we always welcome national hunt gallopers to the track, with so many horses working on the racecourse the grounds team have to put in some intensive work to get it back in order and ready for racing.
Taking Ownership of the Wider Site
“Away from the track we’ve been implementing a number of improvements and upgrades ahead of our opening fixture and we were keen for our grounds team to take ownership of some of these projects. A big focus for us has been improving the on-course experience for racegoers with access requirements. In 2022 one of our racedays was assessed from an accessibility perspective as part of the RCA Access Project. A trained assessor, with lived experience of disability, attended one of our fixtures and created a report with feedback on what we were doing well and where we could improve things. As a result of this report our grounds team have transformed our accessible viewing platforms, making them bigger and laying hardstanding paths to remove the need for racegoers using wheelchairs to traverse across grass. They have also refurbished all of our accessible toilets, adding in colour contrasting facilities, new mirrors and shelves so the toilets meet the requirements of more racegoers. “
The Head Groundsman, Martin Follows, has been with the Racecourse since 1990 and he oversaw the work to the accessible viewing areas, carrying out the work to ensure that the new platforms blended in seamlessly with the existing Pontefract grounds. Other members of his team, including father and son Rob and Tom Pemberton, undertook the improvements to the accessible toilets.
Martin said: “It’s great to be able to work on a different aspect of the Racecourse Enclosures and the team were all excited to be able to play such an integral role in improving the facilities for those racegoers with special access needs. It goes to show that no two days are really the same at Pontefract and it’s one of the reasons I’ve been here for more than 30 years.”
With a brilliantly maintained racing surface, record prize money in excess of £1.45 million and upgraded facilities across the course it’s safe to say that Pontefract Racecourse is the place to be for horses, owners, trainers and racegoers alike this season, thanks in part to the hard work and dedication of the grounds team.
#GroundsWeek is an interactive campaign run by the Grounds Management Association (GMA) and is built on the involvement of the groundscare community – with support from the community and our sponsors, which are listed below, we will be putting our sector in the spotlight once again and celebrating the impact of groundscare on sport and green spaces.
In 2023 the week runs from Monday 20th March—Sunday 26th March. Throughout the week the RCA is exploring the art of racecourse grounds management, highlighting examples from across the sport and sharing case studies of industry personnel.
About the Racecourse Association
The Racecourse Association (RCA), formed in 1907, is the trade association for British racecourses. 59 racecourses are members and have equal voting rights.
The RCA has owned RaceTech since March 1998. The RCA serves the interests of its 59 British racecourse members both inside and outside the sport, empowering them to be the best venues that they can be.
The RCA works on behalf of racecourses to represent their views within the sport through the tripartite structure of the Members’ Agreement alongside BHA and The Horsemen’s Group. Outside of horseracing, the RCA works alongside the Government, other sports and leisure venues, and national charities to meet the needs of racecourses.
Additionally, the RCA encourages and facilitates racecourse community engagement, involvement in horse welfare initiatives, responsible drinking campaigns, and various other partnerships within the sport. The Showcase & Awards, the marquee event of British Racecourses to celebrate and reward excellence and innovation, is hosted by the RCA annually in November.