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A day in the life of a...Grants Officer

03 January 2014

Laura Barron –

Grants Officer at the Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB)


It all started while I was at University studying for an Honours degree in Equine Dental Science.

Some of my friends were into racing and one of them got me a part-time job as a groom for Ed de Giles in Ledbury. I had always ridden horses and, worked at an eventing yard during my school years. That had been fun, but the hot blooded thoroughbred just did something for me! It was love at first sight. Once I finished university I heard about the British Horseracing Authority’s Graduate Development Programme. It sounded tailor made for me, I applied and managed to get a place. I knew this was my chance to join the racing world!

The first two weeks based at the British Racing School in Newmarket were absolutely fascinating. We learned about every facet of the industry. For my two-month placement, I went to the Horserace Betting Levy Board. My first week was interesting - I was placed on the Equine Grants team, which consisted of the manager, Stephanie McIntosh and me, and, just a week later, Stephanie told me she had accepted another job. So it was me, in my first office job, on a graduate scheme running things (or so I like to tell myself). It wasn’t quite that scary or demanding, I had lots of help from everyone, especially Stephanie, but I did get to answer the phone quite a bit and talk to vets who would ask me the correct procedures to follow when strangles had been confirmed. Anyway, it was great, I loved it and I didn’t want to leave. Annie, the new grants manager, started a month or so ago, and I was asked to stay as grants officer to assist with, yep, grants!

What attracted you to apply for the Graduate Development Programme?

It was clear to me that, for someone like me, the programme would be the best way to fast track into the industry. For an ‘outsider’, it was daunting, but I just wanted to see what I could achieve if I challenged myself. Everyone I spoke to who knew anything about racing knew about the Graduate Development Programme and so it was an obvious choice. Also, since being on the programme, I have realised just how many influential people there are within racing who started their careers from this platform.

How did the Graduate Development Programme develop your knowledge of racing?

I was very aware that, of all the people on this year’s programme, I had the least of knowledge/experience of the racing industry. I loved going racing and I knew a lot about the actual horses, but it was pretty much all new to me. On day one we had a fascinating lecture on handicapping from Phil Smith. It was absolutely impenetrable to start with and it took me a while to catch on, but eventually I got there. Don’t worry though, I think I will leave handicapping to the professionals, maths is not my forte! Anyway, every single day of the two weeks in Newmarket increased my knowledge and I learned so much. Then the HBLB, well, that was a whole new kettle of fish! I had to learn quickly; otherwise I would have sunk, so learn is exactly what I did.

What is a typical day like for you?

We have a hectic calendar – the priority for the day depends entirely on where we are in the year. Usually though, it will start with emails - I deal with any that I can answer immediately and investigate the others, sometimes consulting with eminent vets and scientists from anywhere in the country. Then it could be any number of things including liaising with the veterinary advisory committee, writing an agenda for a meeting, organising diary dates, processing grant applications and claims for finance, assisting with the publication of the Codes of Practice, attending meetings, seminars and race days, updating and editing websites, report writing for analytics of website usage and so much more. It is a very varied and interesting role.

What is your favourite part of the job?

I don’t think I have a favourite part, it all kind of works together. But I do find the research applications process very interesting – reading the initial research proposals; ensuring all the essential information is there; listening to detailed discussions on the projects and how they fit with other work being done; and, eventually, seeing the results. I also enjoy the communications side of the job, preparing information to explain what the Levy Board’s research and education projects are all about.

What is the career progression for someone in your role?

Career progression in my role could involve increased responsibility for certain aspects of the grants sector, for example communications which could be managed solely. Or I could aim for a managerial position in a few years if a position arises. As an example of others who have progressed at the HBLB, Tasha Power, also a previous BHA graduate, was promoted earlier in the year to head of operations having previously been operations executive.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of applying for the Graduate Development Programme?

I would say that, if it’s not enough for you simply going racing. If you want to understand everything that’s going on, if you can’t think of anything more beautiful than a thoroughbred racehorse, then go for it. But do give your application a lot of serious thought. The course is massively over-subscribed and you want to stand out for all the right reasons. It also got to help if you have direct experience in the industry – working in a training yard was invaluable to me, so pick an area that interests you and find someone who can advise. I’ve met some amazing people in this industry and we all share a passionate common interest…RACING! Good luck!

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