2024 Race Update

December 11th, 2023

The decision by Jeremy Davies to resign his position as RPRA one loft manager in September instigated the search for a replacement location for the 60m loft. An advert for a loft manager was placed in the BHW with quite a few applications, some being quite tentative and a few very positive. Most did not meet the most important criteria of owning the land the loft would be built upon, or the desired central location to be able to race both north and south within the UK for a final race with a reasonable distance of 250 to 300 miles. I am very cautious in spending a lot of money to set up a new loft, without the security of having the land it is built on guaranteed in some way for several years; rented plots do not give such security, so all those applicants with such a plan could not be considered over outright ownership, such as was the situation at Birtsmorton.

As I looked through the final four who did fulfil the requirements, two were on the extremities of the country, leaving just two in a central location – one in Bath and one in Sleaford. Both were equally capable fanciers, but with the due consideration of the planning conditions and time constraints placed upon us to hold a one loft in 2024, the application by Jonathan Swift of South View Farm in South Willoughby near Sleaford was the choice voted on by the council in October. The location in Bath was greenfield and in an area of outstanding natural beauty, so we felt it would have been difficult to obtain permission.

I have known Jonathan for several years, via his late father David who raced pigeons in the Peterborough and District Federation. He was a Detective Inspector in the Police Force and acquired the farm in 1994 to set up a riding school which is now run by Jonathan and his mother, who was also a WPC for 10 years. Both sides of Jonathan’s extended family were miners who raced pigeons, with Jonathan having his own loft at 7 years old. He continued to race them himself for the next 23 years, except for his time at Glyndwr University in North Wales to gain a BSc in Forensic Science. He has had a sparkling sporting career in other disciplines too, playing rugby at Twickenham for the National Cup with his school at aged 11, and he was in the Leicester Tigers Academy until he was released aged 16 with a broken shoulder. At University Jonathan captained the rugby team for three years, and was selected as captain for the Welsh Universities team. He also took extra education and studied Equestrian Level 3, passing with 3 distinctions, and got involved in the sport of polocrosse. He began playing at aged 14 and went on the win selection for the England under 16 team no fewer than 15 times, captaining a tour of Australia. At aged 17 he was progressed to the men’s team and went on to play 37 games for England – 11 of those as captain – and travelled to Ireland, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Norway, Netherlands, France, Canada, USA, New Zealand and Australia. He retired in 2016 to have a family with his very supportive partner Crystal, and has a stepdaughter Scarlett aged 11, sons Henry aged 6 and Jonjo aged 6 and a daughter Sapphire who is nearly 2 years old. Jonathan is very keen to add the role of RPRA one loft manager to his daily work, as it will augment his goal of obtaining his income whilst working with his two joys in life, horses and racing pigeons. He currently stables around 40 horses, and gives riding lessons one evening a week, with plenty of help available as the pigeons begin to arrive.

As I write these notes the dismantling of the RPRA One Loft at Birtsmorton is now underway, after having obtained prices from companies who had declared their interest in providing a quotation. Jeremy finished on very good terms and has assisted with the dispersal of the sold pigeons once the auction was complete. He went for a week’s holiday at the beginning of November, with the last birds being collected at the end of November, and the aim is for the dismantling to be completely done by the end of December, although the weather, shorter daylight hours and the Christmas break will make it quite a challenge. When I visited last week all the internal furniture was cleared, including the eleven sections of automatic cleaning perches, and the first thirty foot or so of the loft was down. This has given Jeremy a view across the fields once again, and he was busy preparing the expansion of his own new enterprise.

Over at South View Farm, the planners wanted far more documentation than I have time to prepare, so we have enlisted the help of Councillor Ron Shirley from the South West Region who is an architect and well versed in such matters. He has applied for planning permission on our behalf, with a decision due by the end of January. With there being little reason why this should not be granted, the re-erection of the loft shall begin on the 1st February, with the first intake of birds at the beginning of March. We have already started the ground works in the disused outdoor arena at the farm, with the plan being for an L-shaped loft facing south and east. It is a good location, with fenlands all around and the nearest neighbour being half a mile away.

I am fully aware of the need for news updates regarding next year’s one loft race, and I am also conscious of the negativity the lack of information can create. It required a lot of organising to get the ball rolling, and I can assure you that we are working very hard with a tight window of opportunity to make the 2024 one loft race happen at Sleaford. The plan is to race from the north.

It was on the very same day that the planning application was submitted, that the race entry form was published, and I hope that all those who have supported the RPRA one loft race in the past will consider doing so again. It is not for personal gain; it is run by the RPRA for the Future of the Sport, and we are all aware how important that has become over recent years.

Since the conception of the one loft race, many schoolchildren have been given the same opportunities to care for racing pigeons that we had as children, which will have very positive effects for years to come. Even if there are only a few who take up racing pigeons themselves, they will go on into their working lives such as solicitors, council workers and neighbours, with the positive memories we can create. To this aim we need more schools to get involved, and prior to covid there was a growing interest in adding the sport to the school curriculum. Richard Chambers has worked very hard to achieve all this, and we will need your support to keep the momentum going towards that goal.

To enter the race, you can register your interest by applying online or sending in the form, and rest assured we will do all we can to provide you with a race for 2024 or you can have your money back.

Chris Sutton