The new season at York Racecourse, which begins on Wednesday 16 May, will see the opening of a £5m improvement scheme to the grassed infield area which runs parallel to the final furlong of the track.
Along with the enhanced racegoer experience, will come a new name, The Clocktower Enclosure, which references the Listed building that enjoys an unrivalled view of the racing action, framed against the back-drop of the stands. It replaces the term “Course Enclosure”.
Main contractor, Lindum York, has delivered two large, modern toilet blocks at either end of the grass banking, twin canopies either side of the famous clocktower that offer catering and betting facilities as well as some racegoer cover, improved access for pushchairs and wheelchairs plus a refurbishment of the turnstiles.
The scheme has been an architectural challenge, with the need to preserve the near 100 year old Listed building itself whilst ensuring the new facilities are raised out of the flood plain, all in a the context of both a Heritage and Green Belt setting. Working closely with the City of York Council planning and conservation officers, taking guidance from Historic England, the design team has managed to retain the core features while adding modern infrastructure to deliver against 21st century expectations.
The area will retain its traditional atmosphere as an affordable place where families and social groups can enjoy either their own picnics or locally sourced “good food to go”. On the day, entrance prices for the Clocktower Enclosure still start at just £5 for adults, rising to only £12 for racing+music events or the Ebor Festival; there are further concessions for over 65’s and free entry for accompanied under-18 children on all racedays.
The creation of safe pathways from the entry level of the area up to the top of the banking means that racegoers with pushchairs or wheelchairs will find it easier to take advantage of the elevated viewing of the final furlong.
Two new toilet blocks have been created at the northern and southern ends of the bank acting as “bookends”, the northern one will be commissioned for the Dante Festival with its southern counterpart to follow shortly afterwards. Constructed to a twenty-first century standard, modern design makes for a light and bright environment. Of course, disabled and baby changing facilities will be present in both areas.
The Clocktower building remains the focal point of the area, with the stone blockwork of the wall that sits below it, on the western face, being restored to the original vision of the architects from the late 1920’s. The steel canopy that was added in the 1950’s shrouded this view and it has been removed. As part of the reconfiguration, stone from the same County Durham seam has been used to form the curved walls of the new toilet blocks.
A sunny afternoon picnic is how this area is often enjoyed but the scheme includes provision for the service of food and drinks from a series of kiosks set at the top of the bank. Along with the betting facilities, these are covered by lightweight canopies similar to the ones already in use on the stands side. These same canopies will afford some wet weather protection, but it was never the intention to create the scale of structure that would be required to shelter a large crowd.
As traditional picnics are welcomed in this area, the team at the racecourse are taking the opportunity to clarify with racegoers what this means. In essence, the enjoyment of finger food, served cold, using easily portable furniture. So the traditional picnic blanket and modern folding deckchairs will still be welcome, however large gazebos and other items that might spoil the view of other racegoers should be left at home. In a similar vein, the hand held treats that are found in traditional picnics will be welcomed without any charge, however the use of portable barbeques, with their smoke and risk of burns & bin fires, will no longer be possible. The area will retain its “no glass please” policy.
Speaking about the development William Derby, Chief Executive and Clerk of the Course, said, “The course enclosure has always been an important and popular part of racing at York and I know it provides fond memories of summer days’ racing for many people, especially in the local community. We are delighted to have made this investment in this area of the course and I very much look forward to seeing generations of racegoers enjoy the enhanced facilities and improvements. It has taken a real effort by the construction and design team, in the face of some pretty miserable weather in the winter and early spring, and I thank the 300 or so workforce who have been on site to complete this scheme on time and on budget for racegoers to enjoy.”