Retail Talent People General

A trot down to York

Alex Neal from our Hexham shop tells us about his experience of working at York racecourse.

It was a quiet evening in Hexham LBO, and the evening football was about to get underway. I was bracing myself to go and change the coupons when the phone rang.

“My buddy” I thought, “beat me to it going to change the football marketing.”

I answered the phone in my well-rehearsed manner - “Hello, William Hill Hexham.”

But it wasn’t my buddy on the other end. It was my Business Performance Manager (BPM). “Uhoh, what’s happened now?” was the first thing to cross my mind. I couldn’t think of anything in particular, but it was unusual for a BPM to phone at that time in the evening unless something was wrong.

“Alex,” she started. “I have an opportunity for you to go and work at York racecourse during the Ebor. Would you like to go?”

“Why not, it sounds like a different experience.” The phone call ended with a brief ‘thanks’ and I was alone, with my thoughts turning to all the pros and cons of the task I’d just signed up to in the spur of the moment.

A few weeks passed, and I was gearing up for the two hour drive to York. I had agreed to pick up some colleagues en route as they were on my way, and set off. I departed at 9am and stopped off for my Greggs lunch (I wasn’t eating lunch at 9, I was collecting it...I’m not that bad!), collected my colleagues and set off on the two hour journey south.

Some of my passengers had been on the previous two days, as I was only required for the Friday-Saturday stint. They briefed me in the car down regarding what to expect, but nothing compared to what I found when I arrived.

I was first struck by the magic of the racecourse itself. Having never been to York races myself as a punter, I was fascinated by the size and grandeur of it all. The sun was beating down as 11:30 rolled around and you couldn’t help but smile - the atmosphere and anticipation of the day ahead was enamouring.

We went to the main hub where colleagues had been working away long before we arrived, setting tills and papers up, as well as taking bets from the early arrivers to the course. I am indebted to those local members of staff who laid the groundwork for what was to prove the busiest day of my William Hill career.

I logged on, checked my float, glanced up, and took a deep breath. That was to be the last chance I had to take a deep breath throughout the day. With every passing minute, more people poured through the doors, dividing their attention between the bar on one side of the hall and the betting stand where myself and seven other colleagues were located. I know which I would have gone to first. And I’d have enjoyed the pint as I queued for my bet.

Within minutes I had taken my first bet, second, third, and the numbers started to rack up. To see the smiles on all the race-goers faces was great, and some of the outfits, well...the less said about some the better! But others looked spectacular.

The colleague to my right, a chap with dark hair in his late twenties, gave me the lay of the land - the processes, the location of the debit machine, the SSBT terminal, the safe, and most importantly, THE SWEETS.

“They are the most important thing here,” he told me. “There isn’t time for breaks so grabbing a fruit chew gives you the boost you need.”

He wasn’t wrong. 1pm came flew around, and departed just as quickly. I was well in my flow, all nerves surrounding the day dissipated with the first joke cracked around the tills and the natural customer service kicked in. Brief hellos, goodbyes and good-lucks were exchanged before moving to the next person. To a man (or woman), all the customers were polite, friendly, and excited. Those emotions were naturally passed across the counter with the exchanging of bets and money, and each new opportunity to serve was one you couldn’t help but look forward to. I fed off the bright, cheerful atmosphere.

All hell broke loose come the end of race one. In a good way. I’d been forewarned that between races was the busiest time - it makes sense, really. People collecting and placing bets within a half hour window. The translation needed doing, too. But teamwork prevailed - everyone supported each other and where someone had a moment to rest, instead of doing so, they jumped in and helped the person next to them clear their queue. And for all I have said regarding it being busy, the overriding feeling was that of fun. The most fun I have had in a William Hill uniform since...well, I don’t know that anything comes close.

The euphoria of seeing people jumping up and down, thanking you for the winners, and not being devastated when their bets lost was wonderful. No swearing, no abuse, no frustration. A few words that were said to me by a senior company representative there on the day stuck and I couldn’t have summarised this aspect better myself.

“There is a difference in mentality from people coming to a betting shop on the high street and those going to a racecourse. They arrive at a shop and expect to win, hoping not to lose. They arrive at a racecourse and expect to lose, hoping to win.”

Win or lose everyone was having a good day, and being part of it in any way, shape or form was magic. Even better knowing I was getting paid for it!

The afternoon absolutely flew by, and by the end my cheeks were burning like a desert sun from the smile you couldn’t wipe off my face. I didn’t want the day to end. But sadly the final race came and went, and just as they had dripped in through the main concourse, the punters dwindled in numbers back out again.

I cashed up, was thanked by senior management for all my hard work. That struck me. There were some rather prominent company officials there overseeing everything, and they were genuinely grateful for all the hard work you had put in. Sometimes getting an email saying thanks seems a little generic, but when you were personally recognised one to one - it filled you with a sense of pride, both in yourself and the company.

All people on my section had a relaxing debrief once the tills were off, exchanged stories of sights, pay-outs, and evening plans. I arrived knowing nobody, and left with friends around the country - they had my back throughout and I had theirs. We were all in it together, and that alone was worth the journey.

“See you next time,” one girl said to me.

“You certainly will.”

I am genuinely so excited for the next opportunity to go back. I have badgered multiple BPMs in the week or so since to look for the next chance to go.