For those who have fallen on hard times or simply need someone to talk to, Racing Welfare has long provided a priceless helping hand.
Since becoming a registered charity 20 years ago, the Newmarket-based organisation has ensured thousands in racing receive the support they need.
Racing Welfare has been hailed a success, in times of crisis or otherwise, but the coronavirus pandemic presents arguably its greatest ever challenge.
Director of welfare Simone Sear said: “People have already started getting in touch with us – like those who are self-employed, on zero-hour contracts and those casual workers who may have been laid off.
“We are in a pretty good position, because we have a good infrastructure in place and a strong welfare team from across our offices, and their skills will go into overdrive with the challenges we are facing.
“The regional offices’ phones will be answered during the day – if you get in touch you may have to just bear with us, but one of our team will get back to help you. Outside of this, our 24/7 number is there to help.”
To deal with coronavirus issues as effectively as possible, three key target areas have been identified by the charity.
Sear added: “There are three areas which we are focusing on, and we have groups set up to deal with this. One team is looking at information, advice and guidance by researching what people need and trying to help them.
“With community events cancelled, we have another team working to support those people affected – which is mostly the elderly we help, by making outbound calls to check if they are OK and if they need help.
“The third team is starting to sort out financial funds to offer to people who really need it – and although we can’t plug that gap forever, we can help.”
The coronavirus outbreak is an immediate priority, but Sear also anticipates a sharp rise over coming years in use of the mental health services the charity has put in place.
She said: “Last year we did a big study with Liverpool John Moores University which looked at mental health of racing’s workforce – and that made a whole series of recommendations, and we are looking at the ones appropriate to us.
“We already provide a lot of mental health support. But what has seen huge take up is our mental health first aid programme, which we started running last year.
“We now have a mission that every racing workplace – whether that be a yard, stud or racecourse – has a mental health first aider.
“A lot of people want help with those mental health issues, but quite often don’t know how to, and this gives them a ‘tool box’.”
Racing’s working hours can make it difficult to access such services in person, so the charity has increased its online presence.
Sear added: “A lot of people like to ‘self-serve’ and get their own information – and with the hours racing staff do, the digital platform provided them with another route – because they can look at information online themselves.
“If people can’t find what they are looking for through the self-service, we have created different portals to connect 24/7 so you can live-chat with an adviser – which has been really popular.
“Around 2013, when I took the head of welfare post, we were helping about 800 people a year.
“We’ve just had the full-year stats in for last year, and that figure is now more than 2,500 – so it is a huge uplift, and part of that is down to the new digital platform.”
Although continued support to members of the retired workforce remains an essential service, Sear believes it is vital work is done at the other end of the age spectrum to help retain staff.
She said: “We still provide support to the retired workforce, through things like housing provisions, and that remains an important part of our work.
“Loneliness is not just common among older people, but younger as well – and often that comes from being away from home for the first time.
“Developing young people’s housing, like that at MacDonald Buchanan House in Newmarket, helps combat this.
“Trying to come up with a housing solution or strategy to racing is key to the whole staff retention. It helps people settle and feel safe – and therefore people will want to stay in the industry.”
It can be easy to overlook the pressures trainers face on a daily basis, but Sear is keen to reinforce the fact Racing Welfare represents them as well as the staff they employ.
She added: “Trainers are under enormous pressure, and doing research into this has made me empathetic to their situation.
“The harassment they often receive is horrendous, and it would not be accepted in any other work place, but what is worrying is that this has become normalised.
“The response in general to creating a bespoke service was positive, in terms that it is great this conversation has started, and the National Trainers Federation was very supportive. There was, to an extent, a bit of relief that it has been recognised.”
Like most charities, Racing Welfare relies on voluntary contributions to keep going – and with around £4million needed each year to continue providing its quality of services, it presents the organisation with a challenge of a different kind.
Sear said: “Like other charities, we rely on charitable funding because we get no industry funding and we have to think how we will survive.
“It will cost us about £4million a year to keep going – and that is just standing still, without doing anything.
“Luckily we have a good relationship with the Racing Foundation and we have other big funders who support us.
“You can never take that for granted, but thankfully we are lucky we have a very forward-thinking board of trustees and CEO to help ensure we can continue to provide the services to support those in racing.”
Racing Welfare 24 hour hotline 0800 6300 443 for more information visit racingwelfare.co.uk