A 600-strong sea of Santas on two and four legs cut a festive dash through the streets of Hemel Hempstead on Sunday, raising £20k to support hospice care.
The December drizzle did nothing to dampen their spirits, with families, colleagues, jingle dogs and friends turning out en masse to kick start their Christmas at The Hospice of St Francis’ eighth annual Santa Dash.
Teams from all over Herts and Bucks took part, sprinting, scooting and strolling the 2.5-mile course, but the biggest team of all was from Bovingdon Primary Academy, led by 10-year-old pupil and School Sports Ambassador Sam Morley.
Sam’s mum Liz and granddad Michael Beever were both cared for by the Hospice before they died in April 2012 and September 2014 respectively.
“It was wet and there were lots of puddles but it was really good fun and a brilliant atmosphere,” said Sam, from Shothanger Way, Bovingdon.
“I wanted to help the hospice because they’ve helped us and I thought it would be really good to get a lot of people from my school involved. We’ve got over 100 Santas and raised more than £3,000!”
Headteacher Jill Mewha said: “It was absolutely fantastic, a real party atmosphere and great to see so many people turning out despite the weather. We’ll definitely be back next year!”
Before joining the dashers to take part himself, Hemel MP Mike Penning, who is also a patron of the hospice, said: “Every one of you will have been touched by hospice care – whether it’s someone you love, someone you work with or the friend of a friend and that’s what this is all about, nearly 600 of you saying thank you and showing how you can help.”
Heart FM Radio DJ Daniel Fox MC’d the proceedings, dashing for the first time alongside mum-of-three Emma Young, from Hemel Hempstead, who appeared on his radio show last week to talk about why she was taking part with her children Louis, 11, and Daisy, eight.
“I’m doing this with my children this year because I have incurable cancer and it’s to give a little bit back to say thank you for all the services we have accessed up at the hospice,” said Emma, 37.
Sprinters set off first, scooters and bikes followed, and strollers, buggies and wheelchairs brought up the rear.
Canine companions were out in force too, wearing Santa coats, seasonal ruffles or a touch of tinsel.
Hundreds of spectators, including supporters, shopkeepers and Sunday morning strollers lined the route, which weaved through Hemel Old Town, through Gadebridge Park and back to Riverside through the Water Gardens.
First over the finish line for the third year running was 16-year-old Cavendish School pupil and Watford Athletics Club runner Thomas Rayner, from Chaulden, in a time of just over 14 minutes.
“I do it every year for fun and to support a great cause,” he said, “and it just gets better and better.”
Helen Younger, 56, from Boxmoor, took part with The Wild Santas, a 15-strong team of adults, children and jingle dogs who know each other through Wild Training, Hemel.
“I lost my dad six months ago and in the last three to four months, the hospice has helped me to understand palliative care and why it happened.
“The staff there have been wonderful to me and for that I am eternally grateful. Doing this has been brilliant – the children have been so excited they’ve been counting the sleeps!”
Events Fundraiser at the hospice, Nicky Maxwell-Braithwaite, said: “We’re so grateful for the amazing support we’ve received not only from all our volunteers, marshals and nearly 600 Santa’s but also from Daniel Fox, Mike Penning, Dee TV, Nick Bright Photography, Smiths Coffee, The Snow Centre, The Kings Arms, Chiquen, Belvoir and Riverside Shopping Centre. We couldn’t have done it without you!”
If you’d like to find out more about the hospice, which cares for people facing life-limiting illness but relies on voluntary donations for 80 per cent of its £4.8m annual running costs, visit www.stfrancis.org.uk