An Interview with Joanna Wales, Head of Operations & Events, Ascot Racecourse

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An Interview with Joanna Wales, Head of Operations & Events, Ascot Racecourse

Joanna Wales, Head of Operations & Events, Ascot Racecourse

ETV: How are you finding working from home during these challenging times?

JW: Well, don’t tell anyone but I really enjoy it! I am lucky as I have a view out to my garden from my desk and watching the birds is a definite improvement on watching people walking to the kitchen, which is my usual view at work. I’m finding that I’m far more productive as I don’t have the same distractions, but I do miss seeing all of my friends and colleagues at work. You tend to now only chat to the people you have things you’re directly working on together rather than popping to other departments just to say hello. I am enjoying the extra walking I can do instead of my commute each day though.

ETV: Have you found anything difficult? Do you have any tips for your colleagues also working from home?

JW: I have found the learning of new IT systems quite a steep learning curve and learning to edit documents on screen rather than on a piece of paper, but these are all things that we should be doing anyway! I think this current way of working has pushed all the late adopters to a place that we should all be aiming towards though – paperless, meetings online, less commuting, better work/life balance. One of the nice things that the business is doing is a weekly company-wide Zoom call. We all get together and basically wave and say hi to each other. It’s hosted by Guy, our CEO, and this week he had us all joining in with a virtual rendition of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline! It’s such a nice moment in the week to see familiar faces and remind us that we are not just an individual, we are still a team. Furloughed or not, we are all thinking about the Ascot Family and it’s nice to be visually reminded of that.

ETV: What is Ascot Racecourse doing to spread positivity around the workplace?

JW: We are trying to keep in contact with everyone, all 200+ permanent staff but also our hundreds of casual workers. I am in the process of talking to every single one of Ascot’s 220 ‘bowler hat’ staff who are usually at the racecourse on a raceday greeting customers and offering assistance however they can. I am going through them alphabetically and currently have managed to speak to 140 of them. It’s really great to hear their voices and for them to know how important they are to us as a business at this time, especially as it looks like it will be a while before we all return to normal. The business is also reaching out to the staff in lots of small ways from virtual cocktail masterclasses to sharing our favourite recipes and workouts. Recently, everyone was sent homemade flapjacks baked by our Executive Chef Gemma as a little ‘pick me up’ which was a really lovely gesture.

ETV: What are you and your colleagues doing to help out in the local community?

JW: We are doing a variety of different volunteering and gifting roles across Berkshire. We are running a driving service where staff have volunteered to take hospital staff between different hospitals as various services are being allocated across the region to meet varying needs. It’s nice to think that at the end of a night shift, there is a lovely Ascot face collecting them in a BMW and bringing them back to their ‘home’ hospital. Those small touches of humanity are really important. We are also supporting Berkshire Vision with calls to 10 of their visually impaired members who need extra support during this time. Since early April we have been a drive-thru testing centre for the NHS as well. Additionally to this, we have been donating food, money and volunteering hours to local food banks, charities and other community causes. We also had stock of beer that would usually be sold to customers but instead dropped it off to the cleaners at Kingston Hospital and to the Army Benevolent Fund to share with their soldiers helping out across the county.

ETV: What do you think of the “Clap for our Carers” which has been taking place at 8pm every Thursday?

JW: It’s a great thing to be taking part in. We light up the Ascot Grandstand in blue and turn all the lights on as part of the “Clap for Carers” each Thursday as well as showing a rotating ‘thank you’ message on our giant screen that faces the road. It’s great to be able to show our support like this and to thank all those people on the frontline.

ETV: What lessons do you think we can learn from this situation when we return to normality? 

JW: We have been talking about the ‘new normal’ and what I hope is that we are able to continue with the unexpected, but positive impact this has had on the environment. I also hope that when we come out the other side we consider more flexible approaches to working and to how we carry out tasks to consider the environmental impact more.

ETV: What are some of the things you’re most looking forward to being able to do?

JW: We have seen so much warmth and consideration to our fellow humans, either friends or total strangers, and it would be so wonderful if that level of warmth could be held onto in some way to continue this new sense of community that has been created.

ETV: Are there any plans for the reopening of the racecourse?

JW: Well that is THE questions isn’t it. Of course we will be reopening to the public as soon as it is safe, and no one can guess when that will be. Firstly though, in-line with Government guidelines and recommendations, we plan to race behind closed doors with the minimum numbers of personnel we can manage while adhering to all necessary testing and social distancing to make that possible. There is a racing industry resumption group operating, which I am personally involved in, and the timings and logistics are being worked through.

But we hope that once all the restrictions are lifted and as a nation we are through the other side, we will be back to racing with customers and we are all very much looking forward to that day. Royal Ascot 2020, if we are allowed to go ahead, won’t be an event with crowds, but we are already thinking about how we can make Royal Ascot 2021 even better than ever before!

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