With approximately 500,000 military veterans in the North West and 31,000 military in Merseyside, Aintree is dedicated to supporting vets in and around the racecourse, and has set up a series of free visits to Aintree to support as a result.
With 176 Grand Nationals behind us there is plenty of history to reflect on the great race. Therefore in collaboration with Sefton CVS, members of the Sefton Veterans Project NAAFI BREAK were treated to a Grand National Tour recently by one of Aintree’s very own historians.
Similarly to the Dementia Tours which are held in conjunction with Everton in the Community, the military veterans were given a one hour tour of Aintree which included the famous Red Rum’s statue who won the Grand National for a record three times in 1973, 74 and 77; a visit to the new Weighing Room and media centre; a trip to the top of the Lord Sefton Stand to get fantastic views of the course and beyond; and a spot of lunch in the newly named McCoy’s which is home to many historic Grand National artefacts.
Steve Calderbank, an ex-Navy man, said: "For me, coming here to Aintree with the Veterans was like coming home because no matter where we've been in the world, we would always tune in to the Grand National on the radio or TV.
"I watched the race once in Japan - late at night in a bar - and because I was from Liverpool and had actually been to the National myself, I was revered by the Japanese as some kind of local hero. I didn't have to buy a single drink that night!
"We came to Aintree today thinking we knew it all - but our tour guide Jane entertained, educated and enlightened us to an extent that we want to come back and see even more. We reckon we're all experts on the race now."
The military veteran’s days form part of Aintree’s Community Engagement project, one of the five themes of the Aintree Community Programme.
Grant Rowley, Communications Manager for Jockey Club NW, commented on the visit: “It was a pleasure for Aintree to host such a fantastic group of people from the Sefton Veterans Project. We’re delighted they had a superb day with us and glad we are now engaging with a new set of people as part of our Aintree Community Programme. We look forward to hosting more visits sooner rather than later.”
This was the first vets tour of Aintree which will be repeated on several occasion throughout 2016 and beyond.
Ninety-three-year-old Ken Keeton, who served in the Royal Navy at the time of the Japanese surrender in 1945, had only been to Aintree once before his visit with the Veterans.
"It was the 1949 Grand National - when Russian Hero won," he recalled. "I watched the race from beside one of the fences and could not believe how high the horses jumped. The excitement there was just amazing."
For more information on the programme or you would like to get involved, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or pop into the racecourse office.