Race chief delighted at recognition for Pontefract

Norman Gundill. Picture: Alan Wright
Norman Gundill. Picture: Alan Wright

Pontefract Racecourse managing director Norman Gundill has spoken about his delight at the team he heads being named customer services champions in the Racecourse Association’s Showcase awards.

Nominations for the award included commendations for Pontefract’s prompt response to approaches from a student initially denied discounted entry, a local businessman inquiring about sponsorship and a family whose four-month-old son was struck by a stray football in the picnic area.

The award came as a total surprise to long standing clerk of the course Gundill.

He said: “We were short-listed in two other categories, where we thought we had a chance but didn’t win either and this was only announced on the night.

“We were utterly stunned, but at the same time we were all on cloud nine, because getting the award told us that we are doing our job well, which is fantastic to know.

“We do get letters of praise, but it’s the nature of the business that more people get in touch to complain, so the boost for morale was wonderful. It was a terrific accolade for a small team who put their heart and soul into the job.”

Gundill made special mention of his four permanent members of staff.

“Richard Hammill, the assistant manager who’s been with me for 12 years; Carol Nickels, the administration manager, who’s been here even longer; Nicola Cawood, the accounts manager who has been at Pontefract longer still; and Caroline Street, my new PA who took over from Josie Smith, my secretary at the legal practice for many years. They’re all very good, enthusiastic, and very quick to learn.”

“None of us has had formal customer service training. In my case, though, it went with the territory as a solicitor, because originally we couldn’t advertise and had to rely on word-of-mouth to gain business, making sure we did a good job for clients, so they told all their friends.”

These days Pontefract has a good reputation among racegoers, but it was not always the case as remembered by Gundill, who is celebrating his 50th year of involvement at the track and was appointed MBE for services to racing in 2013.

He said: “When I started in 1966, we were at a very low ebb.

“We were on the list of the ‘doomed dozen’, racecourses which were going to be closed in Lord Wigg’s time at the Levy Board. That was primarily because of drainage problems caused by subsidence, and my father, to his eternal credit, persuaded the Levy Board that the problems would be resolved – and they were.

“In those days we really had to bend over backwards to attract people, trying to make sure they had a good time and value for money.

“I often wonder what people mean when they say that Pontefract is a ‘friendly’ racecourse, because buildings can’t talk and an architect can’t write atmosphere into a building. But there’s obviously something about Pontefract that’s appealing, and from the point of improving things, I try to keep the old, because very often ‘old’ means atmosphere.

“Everything is totally different nowadays and, generally, enormously improved. Perhaps the most dramatic change, for us, and for owners and trainers, is that the costs of labour and regulation have gone up hugely.”