Tag Archive for: Autism in Racing

Autism in Racing set to flourish again next year

Autism in Racing founder Bobby Beevers has spoken of his pride in how the first year has seen the initiative flourish on British racecourses.

Further expansion is planned for 2022 – and given the success of the first experiences, Beevers hopes as word spreads further more and more families will feel confident in coming forward to use the available facilities.

With the help of Racing Together, the sport’s community engagement collective, autism-friendly mobile sensory spaces were in place at Doncaster, Haydock, Musselburgh and Aintree over seven racedays.

Runners in action at Doncaster
Runners in action at Doncaster (Mike Egerton/PA)

“We’ve finished phase one now and we’re close to announcing some dates for next year,” said Beevers.

“We’ve had some amazing feedback from the families this year and from the racecourses who were involved.

“How it works is the families contact us prior to racing, as we do have a cap on numbers so we need to know we won’t be oversubscribed.

“Once a family expresses an interest they can fill a form in with all the information on, and for Aintree there were six or seven families involved. Haydock even had a school involved, Wargrave House, who teach children with autism.

“The hope is the more people hear about it the more people will come forward and want to use it too. I get people coming up to me saying how welcome everybody feels.

Haydock is another track to have embraced the Autism in Racing initiative
Haydock is another track to have embraced the Autism in Racing initiative (Simon Marper/PA)

“We’re giving families the opportunity to come racing in a safe and supportive environment and we’ve had plenty say they wouldn’t have come racing if this wasn’t in place. In that respect we know what we are doing is helping people. It makes it all worthwhile.”

He added: “This all happened with my daughter, Sophia, being diagnosed as autistic. I was doing this for her as my wife, Rochelle, said was there a way in making racing – and this shouldn’t just apply to racing – more accessible to people across all platforms. It has grown from that.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved, and the way it is going it is only going to get bigger.”

Autism in Racing day at Doncaster delights organisers

The first ever designated autism-friendly raceday has been hailed a success as Autism in Racing gear up for the continuation of their pilot scheme.

The project was started by racing broadcaster and raceday presenter Bobby Beevers, who was diagnosed with autism earlier this year after his daughter Sophia began displaying behaviours associated with the condition.

The dual diagnosis inspired Beevers to collaborate with the British Horseracing Authority and launch Autism in Racing, a group assembled to heighten awareness of the condition and ensure that racing is as supportive and inclusive as possible to those who are autistic.

The project is financially supported by the Racing Foundation and launched with its first fixture at Doncaster on August 5, a meeting that formed part of the inaugural William Hill Racing League.

Those attending could access designated spaces both indoors and outdoors at the meeting, with a sensory room also present due to the calming effect they have been shown to have on those who may find certain situations overwhelming or anxiety-inducing.

“It went really, really well, it was fantastic,” said Beevers.

“It was the first time a racecourse has ever had an autism-friendly day, my family were there and other families as well and the response was absolutely brilliant.

“We had a debrief the following day and we were so happy with the feedback we received, the families were just having a really good night and enjoying the racing.

“We set out what we intended to do, to give families the option to come racing in a safe and supportive environment, which is what happened.

“What we did at Doncaster was we had the family enclosure to ourselves, where we had a mobile sensory room, which was very interactive.

“There were loads of different activities and we had the Silver Patriarch bar as well, where families and parents could get tea and coffee.”

Beevers now has five further autism-friendly meetings to look forward to, where similar provisions will be made to make the experience as welcoming as possible.

“Phase one, which is this year, we’ve got six dates – two days at Doncaster, two days at Musselburgh and two days at Haydock as well,” he said.

“Going forward into phase two, we’re planning that now and there are a lot of things in the pipeline.”

Beevers was also the force behind a Lambourn stable visit arranged for the members of the Arborfield Autism Sunday Club.

“I have a really good relationship with Carly Jones, who is an autism advocate and she runs the Arborfield Autism Sunday Club,” he explained.

“I told her about the project and she said to me in that conversation that the girls that attend the club, they really like animals.

“I said that I would arrange some stable visits for them, which is what we did with Jamie Snowden, and they went to Dominic Ffrench Davis’ as well, they thought it was absolutely brilliant being able to walk around the stable yards.

“With the success of this so far, we need to do more, we are just building up relationships with different groups and organisations.

“It will be brilliant take it further in the future.”

Bobby Beevers hails response to Autism In Racing initiative

The founder of the Autism In Racing initiative has been astounded by the “100 per cent positive” reaction to its launch.

Bobby Beevers, a broadcaster for SIS and raceday presenter, came up with the idea after being diagnosed himself recently.

Beevers was prompted to undertake a series of questionnaires about autism when, while his daughter Sophia was being tested for the condition, his mother and his wife Rachelle began to piece together similarities between the two.

“Because Rachelle had worked in nurseries and worked with kids with autism she knew what to look out for, things like flapping hands and running around,” he said.

“She spoke to my mum, who told her these were things I used to do as a kid.

“One thing I do is talk passionately about racing, because I’m interested in it. If the person I’m talking to shows a subtle expression that they are not really interested in what I’m saying, I don’t pick up on it and just keep talking. I’ll also talk to anybody as if they are my best friend – as many in the press room will know!

“When Sophia was diagnosed in the first lockdown I wanted to find out for myself if I was too, and spoke to my GP. The first assessment was over Teams – but I had another face to face, and after filling in a few more forms they came to the conclusion that I was also autistic.”

It is still quite a big leap from being diagnosed with a condition to then doing something which will help others in a similar situation, but that is what Sheffield-based Beevers – a Rotherham United fan – set out to achieve.

“It was when Sophia was in the process of being diagnosed Rachelle said she’d love to make everything a lot more accessible for people with autism,” he added.

“When she said that, it was when I started thinking racing could step up to the mark.

“Crowds and noise are two major factors, but autism is such a broad spectrum – it affects people in different ways. I’m fine with crowds – but for Sophia, while I haven’t taken her to a football match yet, I would imagine we might take ear defenders out of caution.

“She’s fearless, though. We can take her to a theme park, and she’ll go on the rides no problem.”

Mobile sensory spaces will be piloted at three tracks
Mobile sensory spaces will be piloted at three tracks (Autism In Racing)

Beevers wasted no time and went right to the top by speaking to British Horseracing Authority chair Annamarie Phelps, who was immediately on board with his vision.

“I went to Annamarie, and she was the first person in racing that I told that I was on the waiting list for an autism assessment. Actually admitting that to someone made me think it was a good thing,” he said.

“She told us she was 100 per cent behind the idea. I put together a team, and we were having meetings over Zoom – building up relationships including with Arsenal.

“The reaction has just been 100 per cent positive. Twitter can be toxic at times – but the support behind this, everyone has just been brilliant.

“The amount of followers in the first week, the response from people in and outside racing has been brilliant. People have been sending me messages about their situation and told us they were wishing us all the best. We’ve got off to a great start and we have so much planned going forward. It’s important we get this year, a trial year, right.”

Haydock Park is set to be one of the racecourses with a 'sensory room' to benefit racegoers with autism
Haydock Park is set to be one of the racecourses with a ‘sensory room’ to benefit racegoers with autism (Tim Goode/PA)

One of the initial stages is to trial autism-friendly sensory spaces at Doncaster, Haydock and Musselburgh later this year.

“It could be that people have shied away from taking their family racing for fear of what might happen when they get there,” said Beevers.

“But by putting these mobile sensory rooms in, a safe a supportive place on the course, they might think again now.

“We need to plan where these rooms go. They need to be in the right place – you can’t just plonk them anywhere.

“But if you want to spend all day in them you can, or come and go after visiting the paddock. It’s all fine.

“The hope is in maybe 10 years’ time there might be one on every course, but at the minute it is a mobile room. We’re hoping to go down the same route as football, who converted hospitality boxes into sensory rooms. That would be fantastic if we could do that, but it might be a case of building one from scratch.”

A sensory space
A sensory space (Autism In Racing)

Those who know Beevers will agree he is full of energy, and in this instance his enthusiasm has clearly worn off on others.

“Racing has got behind this unbelievably, and from the start I said I just wanted to give autism a voice,” he added.

we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet and want to make a change.

“Hopefully anyone who wanted a career in racing – be that a stable lad, jockey or whatever – but might have been put off by their autism, this initiative will hopefully show them they don’t have to be, because the support is there for them.

“We’ve got provisional dates from the racecourses when the first days will be, but they’ll be announced when everything is finalised. Hopefully it will be something special.

“The team I work with have all been very supportive, and we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet and want to make a change.”

To keep in touch with developments within the initiative follow @autisminracing on Twitter.