INSPIRATIONS: From work experience to manager at Fontwell Racecourse

Jon Woolf at Fontwell. Picture by Kate Shemilt
Jon Woolf at Fontwell. Picture by Kate Shemilt

THREE months at Fontwell Park Racecourse changed the life of Jon Woolf.

He arrived at the sporting venue after a depressing period out of work. Three years later, he is in charge of the day-to-day running of the popular attraction and eyeing up further promotion.

C141511-5 Bog Jan15 Racecourse  phot kate''Jon Woolf.C141511-5 SUS-151201-155625001

C141511-5 Bog Jan15 Racecourse phot kate''Jon Woolf.C141511-5 SUS-151201-155625001

The thousands of punters who filled the racecourse, consistently chosen as the best small course in the south, on Boxing Day could enjoy themselves thanks to his knowledge.

He organised the cleaners to ensure the ground was in good condition before and after the meeting as well as being in charge of the 40-strong stewarding team to enable everyone to have fun safely.

It will be the same again at the course’s race meetings during 2015. Attendances will range from 1,500 a day to 8,000.

Jon works out how many stewards are needed each time, represents the racecourse on the safety advisory group with outside agencies and ensures the traffic management plan is adequate for each occasion.

He said: “I’ve got an awful lot of work to do, but I seriously enjoy it. It’s different every day. Before I started at the racecourse, I did factory working and stuff like that and it was very monotonous.

“But I now feel like I can do anything. I am looking to go onwards and upwards with the help of my employer.

“I don’t see myself stopping at my current job of operations manager.”

Jon, 27, grew up and went to school in Worthing. His ambition was to join the RAF and he chose his GCSEs with 
that goal in mind.

He used those to start work in aeronautical engineering, only to find a year later the career was not the right one for him.

He went into a full-time factory job which he held for five years before the operation closed.

He found it hard to get a reference to give to prospective employers and his life began to suffer. He went to the Jobcentre at Littlehampton and gained help in an unexpected direction.

His adviser there suggested a three-month work experience placement at Fontwell Park.

Jon turned up and immediately began to thrive in an environment which mixes 24 racedays a year with corporate functions as well as parties.

He said: “I would recommend work experience to everyone. It’s a case of getting your foot in the door.

“I was in quite a depressed stage in my life when I went to the Jobcentre. They really helped me and pushed me towards work experience and I’ve never looked back.”

Jon started at the racecourse in October 2011 with the then operations manager. It took him just nine weeks to be made operations supervisor in charge of the cleaners because of his obvious talent.

He has since moved up to his present role with the help of his employer, Arena Racing Company, which has backed his ability by sending him on various training courses to broaden his knowledge.

Jon, who lives at the site next to the A29, is next set to become Fontwell Park’s premises licence holder for alcohol sales to add to his responsibilities.

“It’s my job to ensure everything is set up properly for events and that they all run smoothly,” he said.

He has ensured that someone else can benefit from his experience by taking on a Bognor Regis resident for work experience in the hope they will also use the time to establish a new career.

Steve Wood, a relationship manager for the Jobcentre Plus, said work experience placements were an important part of the support Jobcentre Plus gave to people who were unemployed.

Mr Wood said: “They provide an excellent opportunity for someone to gain and improve the skills needed by employers and result in the opportunity to add current information to a CV.

“As in Jon’s case, there is often the additional benefit of the employer gaining confidence in an individual and offering them employment.

“Throughout his placement, Jon demonstrated a hard-working attitude and with our help was able to overcome the travel difficulties.

“He is an excellent example of someone benefiting from work experience and we are now very pleased to be working with him again as an employer.”

Anyone who is unemployed and claiming benefit and who is interested in work experience should speak to their Jobcentre Plus work coach.