Hemel town centre turned red and white on Sunday when 300 Santas on two and four legs brought the festive spirit for The Hospice of St Francis’ 12th annual Santa Dash.
Spurred on by the newly re-elected Hemel MP Sir Mike Penning, the gaggle of Santas of all ages set off at 10am to walk, scoot or sprint the 2.5-mile dash, taking in the High Street and Gadebridge Park.
Sir Mike paid tribute to Ralph Harvey, 70, from Hemel, who supported the hospice for many years.
He used to dress as the official Santa for the event after the St Francis cared for his late wife Christine 25 years ago.
Ralph himself sadly passed away at the Hospice last week after spending the last two weeks of his life in a bed there. His daughter Katie Gray, 35, son Stephen, grandchildren Alana, 18, and Josh, 15, and friends made an emotional dash in Ralph’s memory as the eight-strong ‘Team Grandad.’
Katie said: “Over 25 years ago, when I was just a child, my mum became sick and the Hospice cared for her - I have memories of visiting as a child and it being such a friendly place.
“My dad thought so highly of the care they provided that as he grew older and us kids needed him around less, he took a very active part in fundraising.
“He’ll be missed by so many but my heartfelt thanks to the Hospice for giving him such a wonderful purpose while he was well and taking such fantastic care of him when he wasn’t.
2We did him proud doing the Santa Dash and continuing his support. Meeting so many people he meant so much to was really special too.”
The speediest Santa was 12-year-old Billy Redman, from Hemel, who made in back in just 18 minutes.
Retired police officer Andy Amos, 57, from Gadebridge, returned for a second year running with grandchildren, twins Oscar and Thomas, seven, and Emily, nine and the biggest team was a 20-strong group of coaches, members and their families from Hemel-based Bury Judo Club, aged from five to 60 and led by coaches Ben Whittle, Roy Smith led and Csaba Kiraly.
As the Gazette went to press, monies raised were still being counted, but every penny will enable the Hospice to help over 2,000 people every year affected by life-limiting illness to live their precious lives well.
Hospice events manager Claire Jones said: “Our huge thanks for the amazing support we’ve received over 12 years of Santa Dash not only from all our volunteers, marshals and nearly 300 Santas but also from Mike Penning, Riverside Shopping Centre and everyone else who contributed in any way. We couldn’t have done it without you!
“Please keep an eye on our website and social media to find out what we’re up to next in Hemel and throughout the community.”