Hemel town centre turned red and white on Sunday morning as over 300 Santas on two and four legs brought the festive spirit to Riverside for The Hospice of St Francis’ 11th annual Santa Dash.
Spurred on by Heart Radio Breakfast Presenter Daniel Fox and Hemel MP, the Rt Hon 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.
Santa himself was there, while a stiltwalker dressed as the Snow Queen, accompanied by an elf and a Christmas tree, brought the wow-factor to Riverside, posing for photos, handing out chocolates and helping with the warm up.
The speediest Santa was Berkhamsted School sixth former Joseph Beadle, 17, from Boxmoor, who made in back in just 16 minutes – leaving his dad Alastair strolling - but was soon followed by Alan Vines, 33, from Hemel, in second place and Karina Wells, 31, from Berkhamsted, in third.
First time dasher Karina explained that she wanted to do something for the Hospice, which cared for her aunty Alison Davies in 2011. “It was just the best fun for a great cause,” she said, “the atmosphere was fantastic, with everyone running together. It’s the best way to start Christmas!”
Keen exerciser and retired police officer Andy Amos, 56, from Poet’s Chase, Gadebridge, saw the posters and decided it would be a fun thing to do with his grandchildren – twins Oscar and Thomas, six, and Emily, eight. “We go cycling and play football together and I thought this would be a great way to get them out in the fresh air for a good cause. We’ve loved dressing up and it was so much fun - they could hardly contain their excitement!”
For the fourth year running Lynn Grant and her husband Roy travelled all the way from Suffolk with their twin Yorkshire Terriers, Millie and Ozzy – looking dazzling in sequins - to dash with her sister-in-law Sue Curling from Bovingdon, niece Lisa Petch, 39, and her husband Steve from Chesham, who brought along their Collies Splodge - dressed as Santa carrying a present, Twitch and Fleur - both dressed as snowmen. Lynn’s nephew Paul, from St Albans, also took part with his wife Claire and six-year-old daughter Abigail.
“We do it every year in memory of my husband’s brother Stephen who passed away at the Hospice in November 2015,” said Lynn. “It’s for such a good cause, it’s helping the Hospice, it gets the family together and it’s so lovely to see everyone enjoying themselves.”
Lisa added: “The atmosphere is just fantastic. It’s such a brilliant event and the volunteers marshalling do such a great job. We’ll definitely be back again next year!”
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.
Ben, 27, said afterwards: “It was really great. The kids were so excited and we had the best time! I’ve done lots of runs before but never one in a Santa suit. The sense of community and family was fantastic and we’re hoping we’ve raised lots of money to support a great cause.”
Every penny raised 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 Fundraiser Nicky Maxwell-Braithwaite said: “We’re so grateful for the amazing support we’ve received not only from all our volunteers, marshals and 320 Santa’s but also from Mike Penning, Daniel Fox, Riverside Shopping Centre and everyone else who contributed in any way. We couldn’t have done it without you!”