As the clock at Folkestone ticks closer to midnight, local MP Damian Cooper has stepped in to try and turn back the hands of time. Following yesterday’s meeting, there are now just two further fixtures during December before the gate close, as things stand, for the final time.
Cooper said he was speaking to racecourse owners Arena Racing Company and Shepway District Council to try and find a deal that would enable racing to resume in Kent in 2014. He said, “I want a plan that will allow the course to stay open. What that will mean is coming to an agreement on development on the site that will provide some houses on the site, which has been discussed for some time, and will help provide the resources for the racecourse to be rebuilt.”
That’s all very well, but the idea of using some of the land for housing has already been considered, and the District Council has not included it in the core strategy it has put forward to central government. It leaves the half dozen employees receiving the sack from Santa a week before Christmas, and with no gifts inside it.
It will be hard for all of them, including racecourse manager Emma Santer, whose ten-year association with the course had an unusual beginning. A decade ago there was talk of Folkestone closing down. Santer was selling advertising at the time, and contacted Lingfield Park to see if she could sell some space in the magazine she worked for.
She said, “I spoke to the PR lady and it turned out her dad used to race against my grandad.” That sparked a lengthy conversation leading to the offer of a job at Folkestone and the challenge of getting the course up on its feet again. An accident whilst riding meant Santer could not take up the job, and when she recovered her advertising position soon went.
“I broke my back and four months later I went back to work and was made redundant. In fact it did me a favour,” she said. “The first call I made was back to Lingfield Park to see if that job was still available. I had an interview and they said they would pay me from that day, and could I work from home for a few weeks. Three years later I was still working from home until I needed an assistant and they took some of the ladies’ toilets out and gave us an office at Folkestone.”
It will need a lot more than knocking out a ladies’ toilet to resolve the problems now facing Folkestone. Banging a few heads together between ARC and Shepway Council might be the start, though Cooper will have to do that with words rather than the more dramatic approach that might be more likely to bring dividends.