Women wearing flashing bunny ears put their best feet forward when they stepped out in their droves to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for a local hospice.
Some 2,188 women pulled on their comfiest trainers and paced the pavements of Bury St Edmunds on Saturday as part of St Nicholas Hospice Care’s 2017 Girls Night Out.
The pyjama-clad women gathered in their hundreds on Angel Hill, Bury St Edmunds, as they prepared to trek either six or 11.2 miles round the town and although funds are still be counted it is estimated the moonlight walk, which is now in its ninth year, has raised an estimated £250,000.
Jenny Smith, hospice events manager, said: “Thank you to everyone who has taken part in Girls Night Out and made it such a huge success.
“When Girls Night Out first started we had around 350 walkers, now we have 350 marshals and volunteers and more than 2,000 women taking part, who between them will have walked more than 10,000 miles.
“It is always emotional to see the walkers set off from Angel Hill together and to see such wonderful community spirit across the town.
“Thank you also to everyone who supported the walkers by sponsoring them or coming out of their homes to cheer them on.
“Every year I am truly amazed and humbled by the amount of support Girls Night Out receives, we never take the support we receive for granted, without our walkers, marshals, volunteers, our main event sponsors J M Finn & Co and everyone who helps us along the way Girls Night Out would not be the special event it is.
“The money raised is incredibly important to us because it helps us to continue caring for people and families facing long-term and life-threatening illnesses across west Suffolk and Thetford.
“This year marked our ninth year and I can’t wait to see everyone again next year when Girls Night Out celebrates its 10th birthday.”
More than 350 volunteers and marshals supported 2017’s Girls Night Out, which this year is sponsored by investment managers J M Finn & Co, while emergency services and airmen from the USAF and RAF were also on hand to ensure everything ran smoothly.
Brett Bayliss, head of J M Finn & Co in Bury St Edmunds, said: “We are thrilled that the walk was such a success again and so pleased our sponsorship can contribute to such an important and deserving local charity.
“With a team taking part and a number of volunteers on hand, I’m delighted that we could do more than just put our name to what was an excellent fundraising event.”
The evening was filled with laughter and camaraderie, alongside more tender moments in which walkers remembered loved ones at the memory wall on Angel Hill and at the hospice.
One team who knows just what a difference every penny raised by Girls Night Out makes was a 16-strong group of staff from the hospice’s Sylvan Ward and community teams.
Jo Hill, from the team, said: “We all know what a difference the money raised by Girls Night Makes, we all see it every day. Some of us have taken part before but this we decided that we all wanted to come together and take part as a team.”
Sharon Phillips, Tracey Branning and Sue Lewis were all taking part as part of the Mildenhall Marvels Slimming World team, which, when combined with their sister teams from Slimming World groups in Littleport and St Neots resulted in 150 pairs of feet taking part.
Sharon said: “The three of us have all had cancer, we have all fought it. We didn’t need the hospice but we are doing the walk for all those people who haven’t been as lucky as we have. So they can continue to have the end-of-life care they need, and the support they deserve.
“Seeing that sea of bunny ears stretch for what seems like miles really is an amazing sight.”
There was a variety of entertainment for participants to enjoy along the routes, including music as well as ‘waterboys’ handing out refreshments.
As participants approached the Newmarket Road area the sound of ukuleles rang out, as a 16-strong band serenaded walkers. The music, which included two songs the group had rehearsed especially for the occasion, made sure everyone’s feet tapped as they walked.
The walk’s main sponsors J M Finn & Co also entered their own team the Fat n Finns.
“We are all very excited to be taking part and looking forward to getting started,” said team member Pippa Horton.
Sisters Maddie and Gina Jones from Bury completed the walk for the fifth time in memory of their father.
“When you walk towards to the finish line and see all the people waiting for you ready to hand you your medal it is such a special feeling. It is such a mixture of relief and achievement. It’s just wonderful, “said Maddie.
Gina added: “Our father was very young when he died, he had just celebrated his 50th birthday, and although we weren’t living in the town at the time we have always felt a connection to the hospice, they help people like us, they care for not just the person coping with the illness, but their families too. I think the amount of women who have given up their time to take part in the walk shows just how valued hospice support is.”
The Charlie’s Angels team, a group of four family members from Haverhill returned to take part in the walk for the third time.
Amanda Williams, Sue Elliott and Sophie and Laura Allen were all walking the 11.2 mile route in memory of Charlie Allen.
Amanda said: “We are all excited to be here. For us it is an extremely special event and one that as a family we are proud to be able to do in memory of our grandad and dad.
“For us it is not just about this night, taking part in the walk helps keep us together as a family all year as all make sure we train together throughout the year which allows us time together to think about and remember our grandad and dad.
“It is fantastic to be taking part again, seeing all of the flashing lights is amazing.”
With the finish line in sight walkers were also serenaded by the Rock Vox Choir – with the jingle of tambourines and cheers ringing out.
Carolyn Ramsey, who has taken part in every Girls Night Out event, was walking as part of the Weight Watchers team.
She said: “My mum and aunt were both cared for in the hospice and although my dad wasn’t cared for in the hospice itself the care and support he received from the nurses at home was fantastic.
“The walk has changed over the years, it has got bigger and it is so good to see so many people taking part and I honestly believe the event is so popular because it is exactly what it says – a girls night out that everyone can enjoy.”
Joining Carolyn were her fellow team mates from Weight Watchers groups in Bury, Newmarket, Haverhill and Sudbury.
Next year Girls Night Out, which will take place on Saturday, 8 September, will celebrate its tenth birthday.
The Fat n Finns team are pictured above.