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Arena is helping Cheltenham Festival count itself among the world’s most prestigious horse racing events.


With nearly 6,000 staff employed over four days, and more than 100 helicopter movements per day, Cheltenham Festival is a powerful economic driver for the UK, and its VIP audience have helped continuously drive improvements in Arena’s offering.

Arena’s project director Ben Sly spoke to Access on site at Cheltenham Racecourse as the event got its finishing touches. He has seen the event become home to some of the company’s best innovations: “The first cantilever balcony was designed and made for Cheltenham, a balcony without legs. The Health & Safety specifications have also gone up massively over the past years. It’s now very much a CDM site and we run it as a construction site, controlling everyone passing into that area.”

New this year at the event is tweaks to the existing standard, new materials and specifications for the toilets and new designs. Meanwhile, the first four story structure is being rumoured for next year’s event.

“This is a brilliant event for us, a great winter event, and perfect in terms of timing. It gives the staff work during a usually quiet time of year,” says Sly. “We started in November 2019 after a meeting, and we can only go to a certain level of height to keep the aesthetic right until the race meeting in December, when it just looks like a white platform. As soon as that’s done, we can only go so far before a race meeting on 1 January. It’s a tricky build because of these limitations.

“This project uses our skills and our kit to the maximum. We don’t do any triple decks like this.”

Arena started designing restaurants two years ago pushed successfully for the Jockey Club, the organisers, to give them contracts to build restaurants at the event. “We did all the design for two restaurants that we won the contracts for. Previously we did all the work, apart from the final finesse, so it seemed amiss for us not to do that. We are cheaper too as we’ve already done all the main work,” adds Sly.

Once the Arena team have done the designs early on in the process, Sly is able to tweak the build as things change slightly on site, a benefit to having Arena feet on the ground.

The structures have been widely lauded. “This is the top spec, they call it the ‘Cheltenham standard’. We have top organisers from major events like Wimbledon and Chelsea come along to see our work, and we use a lot of the ideas in the Jockey Club’s other sites. We also build the Guinness Village , a site that’s very popular. If they could make the Village bigger they would, and it’s a great party atmosphere there, and its a great feature area,” Sly adds.

“Staff wise, there’s 70 on site per day, with a few new staff on board this year, but most of them have been with us for a long stint. They’ve been doing this for years. It’s a challenge to get the skill level as the event grows so recruitment is a careful process.”

The Horse and Groom is one of the most popular restaurants and it’s changed the look and feel of the structures internally. “We always find better ways to do the walling, and panelling, with ‘beading’ coming in to form squares effects taking off over the last few years. It’s key to the Jockey Club that there’s continuous improvement.”

Arena have also gone from doing occasional furniture, to all the furniture, upgrading to Brompton chairs. They work closely with GL events, who also provide structures.

“The most challenging thing is building in the footprint that is so set in stone. There’s hallowed ground we can’t touch in front of us. We’ve known the GL events staff, who build structures on site, well to and we get on famously. We work together on the logistics on the build. There’s a day when they have to use a crane, so we are unable to work, but there are always friendly compromises.”