This is part of our Interview Series, with people inside racing about the impact that the Covid19 Pandemic has had on their personal circumstances and the affect it has had personally & professionally within the racing industry.
Today we talk to race course photographer Fran Altoft, who was working at Cheltenham during the Festival before the country went in to Lockdown. Fran talks openly about the effect no racing has had on her business, the Festival backlash & Behind closed doors racing……
Firstly, how are you coping during this tough time?
I’m good – I’ve (touch wood) remained healthy throughout which is the most important thing. I am quite bored but that’s nothing new for me anyway as I have the attention span of a flea!
I think this situation has definitely made me appreciate my job and life in general.
You must feel very isolated? How are you spending your days?
I’m on my own at home in Newbury, my parents both work in hospitals so I couldn’t spend the lockdown with them in case they brought something home from work.
I am very lucky that I live in a cottage on 12 acres of land with a lovely garden so when the weather has been nice I have been sitting out in the garden, photographing a lot of the wildlife, going for a lot of walks on nearby Greenham Common and reading a lot of books (it’s costing me a fortune on Amazon!)
I should be working about five or six days a week at the moment and getting into the flat season proper so it’s proving quite frustrating.
What was your first thoughts when Boris announced the Lockdown?
I was glad if I’m honest, some things can’t be left to roll on and get worse. Of course, I was gutted that racing had to stop but when lives are at risk globally and so many people are losing their lives, not being able to go racing is a small price to pay.
How is the current situation affecting your income & Business?
I’m relying on the sale of old photos, which is proving quite tough as I think there’s only so many times you can push your work on social media without looking desperate. I obviously have no income from the racecourses I work at as if there’s no racing there’s no need for me!
It’s been a tough NH season as it is, I think I lost 11 fixtures to the weather since October which is by far the worst I’ve had, and I think this means I have lost another 16 fixtures. That’s before the meetings I do as a freelance are considered.
Has any of the help the Government offered been of any help to you?
The self employment scheme should help, it’s yet to be seen how much financial help I will get from that but whatever it is it’s better than nothing.
Have any of the Associations you are affiliated with been in touch with help & advice?
I am on the HWPA (Horserace Writers and Photographers Association) committee and there’s been as much help as we can give people at this time, mostly just in the form of people to talk to if needed.
There’s been a weekly quiz on a Sunday night to get people talking. The press room is quite a tight knit bunch so not seeing each other several times a week is very strange.
I’ve had a lot of phone calls and messages from a lot of my photographer colleagues too, I like to consider most of them my friends as well so the fact we’ve kept in touch with each other is lovely.
Having been at Cheltenham, what are your thoughts on the bashing of the Festival in the media?
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and the meeting probably shouldn’t have gone ahead in my opinion, but the racecourse and racing authorities could only act on the government situation at the time and I don’t think it’s fair to be so directly blaming the spread of COVID-19 on the Festival when football matches and concerts also went ahead the same week.
I think at the time, I felt as though if the Festival was called off, it would’ve been called off on a “what if” and it would’ve been disastrous for many.
How do you feel the Government has handled the current situation?
I think they’ve handled it as well as anyone could. It’s one of those situations where they can’t win and it can always have been handled better or differently, and like I said above hindsight is a wonderful thing and the lockdown probably should’ve been announced sooner and the measures enforced more strictly.
I don’t think it’s in any way a political situation like some people are making it out to be. I think it would’ve been great if the PPE problem could have been sorted but it’s a global issue and not just Britain alone in this crisis.
If & When racing returns, what measures would you like to see in place?
I think they need to be very careful on the number of people at racecourses and social distancing measures enforced, which I’m sure will happen. I’m not sure testing will be effective if racing is taking place every day as if it takes two days for test results to come back, if someone is infected they could have been somewhere else in the meantime.
I don’t think it can be done by just taking someone’s temperature as not everyone displays symptoms of the virus.
As a photographer, if racing started behind closed doors, what thoughts do you have on this and would it be possible to keep to the Social Distancing measures so you can go back to work?
I will miss working alongside all my colleagues, we’re usually heading into our busiest time of year at the moment. As a photographer when we are working out on the racecourse, as long as the numbers are kept small, then it is possible to keep apart from each other, maybe even working from our cars instead of a press room.
It’s probably one of the jobs on a racecourse where social distancing is easiest. Hopefully if things are done well by the nation as a whole, it won’t be long until things can start getting back to normal.
We would like to thank Fran for her time and wish her all the best for the future…
If you would like to see Fran’s work, here is a link to the website –
Interview by Rich Williams
Photos – File