One of Britain’s leading racehorse trainers has underlined the challenge of recruiting and retaining staff facing the industry in the Middleham and Coverdale area as he unveiled plans to build accommodation for more of his 125 staff.
Mark Johnston, who has trained more than 100 winners for 28 consecutive seasons, said while the racing industry is the largest employer in the area and
makes a significant contribution to the rural local economy, there is “a huge shortage of affordable, suitable housing” for jockeys and stable hands.
Mr Johnston already provides 21 homes for his staff, ranging from one bedroom to 11-bedroom properties. All are rented at heavily subsidised rents. Despite this the business is currently short of at least ten staff.
The celebrated trainer’s comments in a planning application to Richmondshire District Council to build two further houses for his staff at his 300-acre KIngsley Park yard follow concerns about the issue being raised by some of the 14 other training yards in and around the town as well as elected community representatives.
Responding to a recently approved planning application by racehorse owner John Dance to redevelop the Manor House Farm yard, Middleham Town Council highlighted how the scheme would create 35 jobs, but only provided accommodation for the trainer and two head lads.
It stated: “Existing pressure on local permanent accommodation results in stable staff living as far afield as Colburn and Darlington, requiring travel in to Middleham every day at 5am to 6am in winter before the gritters are out on their morning runs.”
Middleham councillor Susan Fairhurst said some of the yards were good at providing accommodation for staff, some of whom were aged 16 and vulnerable, but they could not find homes for everybody.
She said: “This definitely needs addressing. People are travelling from out of the area, which is obviously not good for the carbon footprint and when they start at unearthly hours in the morning they need to be in and around Middleham.”
Dawn Goodfellow, chief executive at Racing Welfare, said the charity dedicated to supporting the workforce of British horseracing was looking into options for future developments to support the racing workforce specifically in the Middleham community.
She said it was hoped to develop accommodation for up to 12 young people in the next two years and the charity was exploring two potential sites.
The charity said its housing arm, Racing Homes, which manages 165 homes in racing centres of Lambourn, Newmarket, Epsom, Middleham and Malton, aims to follow the best practice in social housing, providing high quality accommodation and support, at affordable rents to support those people and their employers.
In Middleham, the charity offers shared accommodation above its office for young people working in racing, while its welfare team offers support with housing advice and support into private accommodation.
Ms Goodfellow said: “Finding suitable and affordable housing is a prevalent issue for people working in racing, many of whom are employed in training yards and studs in racehorse training centres, including Middleham. Up and down the country, it’s something which we strive to help employers with as it’s key to attracting and retaining staff within the industry.”