There's more to Cheltenham Racecourse than jump racing
PUBLISHED: 14:35 08 August 2016 | UPDATED: 14:35 08 August 2016
When the race is run a plethora of events flock to Cheltenham Racecourse, as Tracey Spiers discovers
It’s famous world-wide for being one of the most prestigious events on the sporting calendar. Cheltenham Racecourse at Prestbury is the home of British Jump racing and the place where year on year horses, jockeys and owners add their names to the Hall of Fame. Yet surprisingly only 16 days of racing take place here, peaking with the four day Cheltenham Festival in March which attracts 260,000 people.
That leaves 349 days of the year (or in 2016, 350 days) when the sound of horses hooves is silent. So what does happen on this stunning 350 acre site for let’s face it, the majority of the year?
The answer in short - an incredible amount. In terms of venues, Cheltenham Racecourse has a beautiful setting. Close to a popular spa town, close to the Cotswolds and close to some of the most stunning views and countryside, according to those responsible for events and marketing, it has so much to offer.
The racecourse is therefore a hive of activity all year round with an array of very different sounds and colours. As I visit, thousands of caravans have just left the site having participated in the first Caravan and Motorhome Show and staff are getting ready for an award-winning family event, the 12th Wychwood Festival. This takes place in early June with headline acts including 10cc and Miss Dynamite. Last year UB40 made an appearance.
“As a venue we are very versatile and unique in the space we can offer and the views around are so stunning,” says Clare Reader, who is Regional Conference and Events Sales Manager.
Built in 2005, The Centaur is the racecourse’s biggest and best asset for indoor events. When it first opened it held the accolade as having the biggest auditorium in the South West. Today, 11 years later, with its ability to seat 2,250 people, it is still the biggest between Birmingham and Bristol. Over the past decade it has played host to film crews, high-profile concerts, exhibitions, weddings, dinner dances and many award ceremonies - including my own graduation ceremony last year.
“Our comedy nights are always a sell out. We had Sean Lock here in April and Jools Holland comes every other year,” says Lee Moulson, Head of Sales.
“One of our challenges has been to market ourselves as a venue as many organisations don’t naturally think of us as a place to hold their conferences. In recent years we have been pushing our Business Breakfasts which give local people a chance to network, be encouraged by leading entrepreneurs and see the venue in a different light,” he adds.
“It is amazing to hear the gasps as they walk into the Panoramic Restaurant and appreciate the views across the racecourse - some for the first time.”
In recent years, an outside company has hired The Centaur for the whole of December in order to host Christmas parties. But this year for the first time, an in-house team has taken over the festive period and Racecourse management now have control of The Centaur and can continue hosting business events alongside Christmas functions. Forgive me for talking about such things in mid summer, but for those involved in business, thinking ahead is a fact of life.
So in the midst of conversations about summer events planned for the racecourse - involving the National Brass Band Competition, top brand company business conferences, gospel choirs and other music-related events - I find myself listening to plans for winter wonderlands.
A White Christmas, which combines a three-course festive meal with a live performance from Britain’s Got Talent star Race The Horizon, formerly known as The Mend and a DJ-led night of non-stop dancing and fun, is one of the main in-house organised attractions the events team is promoting.
“It is going to be really exciting, we are keeping the details a secret at the moment, but businesses can book tables of 10 and it means smaller businesses or individuals can also book spaces on a table and share the festivities,” explains Lee.
Leaving Christmas aside for a moment, the racecourse is used by a growing number of businesses - both large and small - for a multitude of purposes, be it training days, team building, conferences or awards ceremonies such as the Cotswold Life Food and Drinks Awards.
“We have the skill set, we are used to running the Cheltenham Festival every year so our team can put its hands to most things and can cater to clients’ needs,” says Clare.
“For one of the companies we look after, our catering staff manage to feed 2,000 people within 40 minutes, which is pretty amazing - that takes a bit of planning!”
A call comes in to the offices at Cheltenham Racecourse inquiring about the possibility of hosting a small business conference.
“The thing is do you have parking?” asks the caller.
“We have got 10,000 car spaces,” is the reply.
“Oh, I think that’s enough then!” laughs the client, who promptly books the venue.
Parking is obviously not an issue for this 350 acre site. When staff are used to catering for crowds of up to 70,000 a day, including jockeys, owners, trainers and race goers during Cheltenham Festival, the thought of hosting big conferences, music festivals and any other corporate event which would perhaps test some organisations, doesn’t faze them. It is testimony of the efficiency, professionalism and ability to work well under immense pressure.
But there is a deeper sense of place to Prestbury Park for those who enjoy using the facilities outside the racing world. I leave the last words to Communications Manager Sophia Dale.
“People like coming here because of the fact Cheltenham Festival is held here. This isn’t just a venue to host an event, there is a sense of excitement that history takes place every year, which makes it very special.”