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‘I always take time to talk to and, more importantly, listen to my customers. They trust and respect you’

The Racing Post and SIS honoured the work of retail staff across Britain and Ireland during the Covid-19 pandemic at a virtual awards ceremony on Wednesday 17th December.

Eight winners of the Betting Shop Champions Awards were selected by a judging panel, and they received their prizes at a ceremony hosted by the Racing Post’s Lee Mottershead and ITV Racing presenter Ed Chamberlin.

Chamberlin said of the winners: “They are all heroes. It shows just how well everyone has done to keep the show on the road. I admire them all enormously and hopefully we can now kick on.”

Each winner will receive a VIP hospitality experience for two to the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown next July.

Alan Byrne, chief executive of the Racing Post, said: “We wanted to celebrate some of the fantastic efforts made across retail. We have seen so much hard work by so many people. I would also like to thank Richard Ames and his team at SIS for their unwavering support of the competition and this initiative.”

Here we find more about the eight Betting Shop Champions:

Brian Connell, 36

Ladbrokes, Tuam

He says I’ve been with Ladbrokes for 15 and a half years since I joined as a cashier.

It’s been a challenging and unnerving period for everyone – it’s been very stop-start. However, it has helped our team build a certain amount of resilience knowing that we’ve been able to overcome these challenges.

We’re lucky to work in an industry where we’ve been able to roll out the red carpet for our customers unlike others in the hospitality trade.

For our customers it has meant so much being able to get out again, see their friends and have a cup of coffee in the shop. Seeing them get back into their routine has meant a great deal.

Winning this award and representing the company on a national stage is a great source of pride. It also says a great deal about the team I work with. I’ve been lucky to keep the same team throughout the pandemic.

Angela Dinham, 45

Star Sports, London

She says I’ve been working in the industry for over 19 years.

When I found out I’d won this award I was pleased, but also shocked because to me what I’ve done are just simple things that I would normally do anyway. However, because of the pandemic I felt I needed to step up a bit more as we have a lot of elderly customers who don’t have anyone else to help them.

Little things like offering to get their shopping, baking cakes, giving them your number so they can contact you if they need anything or even just for a chat when they are feeling lonely made a big difference to them.

It’s been a challenging time for everyone. I’m lucky enough to have my family around me at home but not everyone has that. I’m glad I was able to help in any way I could to make things a bit easier for someone.

George Furmage, 50

Ladbrokes, Stenhousemuir

He says When I was nominated it was a bit of a surprise, but I was both excited and chuffed. I realised it was a big deal when I saw it in the paper and there were only two winners from Scotland.

The biggest challenge was not seeing our customers. The most important thing was communicating with them. If I was out shopping and saw any of them I would stop and speak to them.

We reopened as one of the new digi hubs, so as well as the challenge of getting the customers back into the shop and into their old routines it was also going to be a completely new experience for them. It went from an old, grubby shop to a state-of-the-art shop.

The weekend before we reopened I made sure the doors were open and if I spotted a customer walking past I would invite them in to show them how everything worked.

I’ve worked in the industry for 32 years and I have one particular memory which stands out. A customer had been in all day and when he left he had a smile on his face, and all he said was, ‘Thank you’.

Keeping customers safe was the number one priority of betting shop staff
Keeping customers safe was the number one priority of betting shop staff

Dale Harper, 33

Paddy Power, Birmingham

He says When my manager sent me a screenshot to say I’d won this award I was shocked. It was nice, though, because it was so unexpected. I didn’t do what I did during the pandemic for recognition, I did it because people were having a hard time.

I see some of my customers more than I see my own family. They become close to you and I’ve got to know them really well.

The wife of one of my customers has dementia and his family live in Ireland, so it helped him during the lockdowns when I was able to check up on him. I have a wife and kids at home, but he doesn’t.

I’ve suffered from depression so I always talk to the customers. I know their personal lives. I have their numbers, so I was able to call them and help with their shopping.

Because I’m a customer myself I understand what it means to them. It’s about making it a happy experience for them. I’ve done that throughout my eight years in the industry.

Stephen Harrison, 55

William Hill, Middlesbrough

He says I’ve been with William Hill for approximately 16 years. The Covid pandemic has been bad enough, but has been much worse for those who have lost loved ones.

I wanted to help out somehow. All I could offer was my time, so during furlough I volunteered a few hundred hours. It was nice to interact with people again as I live alone.

I helped out with various tasks in the betting shops, getting them ready and prepared for the reopening in April.

One highlight of my time at William Hill was being asked to work on the racecourse, and I’ve been lucky to work at the Cheltenham Festival twice. Hopefully I’ll get back there some time.

Ruth Jones, 55

Coral, Caernarfon

She says I was shocked when I found out I had won this award. I had no idea my area manager had put my name forward.

During the lockdowns I kept in touch with customers and some nights I was up until 1am chatting to them on Facebook. Some were having a really hard time, so it was important to help lift their spirits. For others I’d do their shopping.

They become your friends because you see them on a daily basis, so you have to help them. They mean the world to me. My team and customers are one big family.

My manager [Mike Hodgson] is first class. I’ve never met anyone like him. We all work as a great team. We have lots of laughs and jokes. I’ve worked in the industry for 26 years and it’s a pleasure going to work.

I always used to have a £1 bet in the Grand National and they always fell at the first fence. In 1993 I backed Esha Ness and it was the only time I’ve backed the ‘winner’ of the National!

Betting shop staff had to implement new safety protocols when shops reopened in April
Betting shop staff had to implement new safety protocols when shops reopened in April

Lynn Phelan, 57

Coral, London

She says I knew about these awards but I didn’t realise how big they were. I was in shock when I found out I’d won. It took a while for it to dawn on me how big an achievement it is.

It was quite difficult at the beginning when the shops reopened because of the restrictions in place, but the customers understood straight away what they had to do and took it all on board.

I have a lot of respect for them. I always take time to talk to and, more importantly, listen to them. They trust and respect you.

I always like the Christmas season because all through my 15 years in the industry customers always bring presents. I’ve had customers thank me and say how much they enjoy coming into my shops.

I have spent time as a quality standards auditor and part of that was completing mystery shopper visits. As well as learning things myself the staff in those shops were always grateful for the feedback I gave.

Gordon Sinclair, 57

Ladbrokes, Glasgow

He says I’m immensely proud to be chosen as one of the eight winners of this award. It’s quite an achievement. It’s a reflection on everyone who I work with.

During Covid it has been difficult for everyone. Even before it happened we faced the challenge of the FOBT maximum stakes reduction, but the staff all rallied around putting in place all the requirements to keep us all safe.

For customers it is a different environment having to wear masks and not being able to sit and chat with their friends in the usual way. We also lost a couple of customers, so there have been hard days.

The customers have been resilient and the vast majority are back in the shops. There was always a worry that some would not return and bet online, but we are a community for them and not just a betting shop.

I’ve been with Ladbrokes for 34 years and I even met my wife Laura through the job. I hired her as a cleaner and now she’s a customer service manager. You could say eyes met across a feather duster!


Written by Andrew Pennington