The Jockey Club has become the first horseracing organisation in the country to open a permanent sensory room on its premises, with facilities at both Cheltenham and Aintree Racecourses that will be available to anyone of any age who may need it on a raceday.
Following a consultation between The Jockey Club and the ‘Autism in Racing’ project, the decision was taken to open up facilities at both racecourses, which launched on race days at Cheltenham’s November Meeting and on Boylesports Becher Chase Day at Aintree in December respectively.
A sensory room is a specially designed room which provides comfort to people who have sensory processing problems, which can include people with autism. The rooms were first piloted on a racecourse last year as part of a trial by Autism in Racing, which was founded by broadcaster Bobby Beevers and saw a mobile unit head to racecourses up and down the country.
Beevers was himself diagnosed with autism last year around 12 months after his daughter Sophia was diagnosed and it was his desire to ensure that those with sensory issues were catered for at racecourses that led to him launching the project.
And he’s hoping that the launch of the first permanent sensory rooms is just the start. He said: “It’s phenomenal that The Jockey Club have created two permanent sensory rooms. The facilities are absolutely brilliant and everyone associated has done a brilliant job and should be immensely proud.
“It’s worth pointing out that both facilities have been created in areas which were previously for hospitality, which could have stayed as it was and earned thousands of pounds for the business. Instead, they’ve bought into what we’re trying to do and because of that we have a fantastic facility for people who need it.
“Families who may not have felt they were able to come racing in the past can now do so in a safe and supportive environment and that’s what it’s all about.”
The project is close to the hearts of many at The Jockey Club, including National Sales Manager Toby Lewis, whose two sons Freddie (seven) and Milo (three) have both been diagnosed with non-verbal autism.
Toby was one of the main voices behind the move to convert a hospitality box at Cheltenham into a permanent sensory room, and he explained that unexpected things like sights and smells mean that a day at the races can prove too much for them at times without a facility to turn to.
He said: “My two children have both been diagnosed with autism. They are both non-verbal and have sensory processing needs, which means that things like things like unexpected sounds, busy crowds and smells can trigger them.
“I was keen to see what we could do at The Jockey Club to cater for people with sensory needs and after mentioning the idea to our Regional Director Ian Renton, he was delighted to get on board. From that point we reached out to Bobby for his advice and it’s been a great partnership since.
“This space is for anybody with an additional need and we want it to be for everyone. Everybody’s needs are different, but having a facility like this means that there’s a safe space to turn to.”
Ian Renton, Regional Director at the Jockey Club (Cheltenham and South West), commented: “It’s absolutely fantastic to see Cheltenham lead the way alongside our friends at Aintree by launching a dedicated sensory room for any racegoers who may need it.
“We’re always keen to push phrases like ‘racing is for everyone’ and that means that we have to endeavour to practice what we preach. This room is for anybody who may struggle to come racing without it and hopefully it will encourage faces new and old to come and give a day out at the races a go.”
Cheltenham-based ampm Construction, who were responsible for putting together the facility at Cheltenham commented: “As a local contractor, ampm construction are extremely proud to be involved in the creation of this amazing new facility at Cheltenham Racecourse.
“The new sensory room is a huge boost for local children visiting the course and is something close to our hearts. ampm relished the chance to be a part of the project and we would like to thank all our suppliers and key partners for making it happen so quickly.”
Meanwhile on Merseyside, Aintree launched their sensory room at the beginning of the month in The Art School on course, which previously served as a private hospitality suite.
Situated close to the parade ring, the facility allows families who otherwise might not be able to come racing to enjoy a day out, including Clare Chapman, who popped into the sensory room with her daughter Catherine.
Clare has a love for horses and works as an instructor for Park Palace Ponies – another local initiative with close ties to The Jockey Club – and she explained that facilities like this sensory room are as much for the parents as they are for the children.
She said: “A lot of things like sights, smells and noises that are common at the races can be overwhelming for children with autism, so to be able to take a minute out and reset for both the kids and the adults as well is invaluable.
“It’s a chance for the parents as much the children to take that time out and allow your children to reset. You can then go back out and really enjoy your time.
“It’s possible to go out without something like this, but it’s very difficult. If you have a situation where your child is overwhelmed and wants to leave, you feel like you’ll either lose the money by going home or you have all that stress from battling on.”
Another parent to visit the facility at Aintree was Mark Adams, who did so alongside his son Finlay McCulloch. Mark explained that aside from the obvious benefits, having a sensory room took away some of the financial risks of having a day out with the family.
He said: “Rooms like this are great, because it’s quite busy out there. He’s ok for a little while but it’s nice to be able to come somewhere nice and quiet and get away from everything.
“There aren’t many facilities available at sporting events like this and let’s face it, it’s not cheap to come out for a day at the races. If you come in and put your money down at somewhere for the first time, we could find that he suddenly wants to leave and there’s not a lot you can do about that. Facilities like this help to take away that financial risk that comes with a day out.”