St Nicholas Hospice Care's Girls' Night Out to return to Bury St Edmunds next weekend as organisers welcome last minute entries to September 11's fundraising walk
One of Suffolk’s biggest and most popular fund-raising events will be back next month in a sea of pink and twinkling lights.
After a year’s break due to the pandemic, walkers are ready to don pyjamas and flashing bunny ears and put their best feet forward for the 2021 Girls’ Night Out in Bury St Edmunds.
The sponsored walk helps towards the £11,000 a day it costs to run St Nicholas Hospice Care, which provides at-home and in-patient care, counselling and therapies for people with life-limiting illnesses and their families.
Last year most of the fund-raising events that add vital extra cash to the coffers were cancelled or severely cut back due to Covid.
Now, gradually, they are coming back. Funds have already been boosted with July’s Hidden Gardens of Bury, and The Edge Cycle Ride. Nine people will run for the hospice in October’s London Marathon.
But Girls’ Night Out has long been the hospice’s biggest fundraiser and organisers are hoping for a late rush of people wanting to join in the walk on Saturday September 11.
“Last minute entries would be very welcome,” said events manager Charlie De-Moore.
Girls’ Night Out has raised over £1.5 million since it started with just 350 walkers in 2009. Even that first walk – the brainchild of former events manager Jenny Smith – raised £60,000, well over the expected target.
The mix of camaraderie, fun and fund-raising proved irresistible. People walked in memory of loved ones, or simply to support the cause.
It grew and grew, building up its own traditions along the way, and the town took it to its heart.
Now every year they expect to make more than £200,000... but last year had to be very different.
Although the walk around Bury could not happen, supporters found a way to keep it alive with families and friends doing their own routes closer to home.
A WhatsApp group allowed people to share what they were doing, and a podcast from the hospice was organised on the night. There was also an online virtual memory board for sharing messages about loved ones.
Charlie, who used to work alongside Jenny, said: “With the pandemic, and particularly its effect on events, we couldn’t do the walk in Bury last year.
“When we would have been arranging it we didn’t know what was coming. There were lots of restrictions. So we decided that people could just do it in their own areas and not come to Angel Hill.
“Last year we raised £60,000, which was obviously down on normal – we usually raise around £200,000 – but at least we were able to do something.
“Girls’ Night Out is very special for a lot of people. They have lots of memories, and it is often done in memory of loved ones.
“So we’re really pleased to be back doing it on Angel Hill, but realise we have to remain cautious because we have to ensure everyone is safe.”
One element missing this year is the special GNO T-shirts, but the signature pink flashing bunny ears will be handed out on the night as usual, and wearing pyjamas is encouraged, but not essential.
This year’s event was launched in the spring, but so far the number signed up is less than half the normal total.
“We’re doing alright, but it’s not as many as usual,” said Charlie.
“In 2019 we had over 2,000. But because the lockdowns happened so quickly I think people are still cautious, which is understandable.
“We’d like to see 1,000 people gathered on Angel Hill on the night. It’s a shame our numbers are down but we understand why. It’s been a tough time for everyone.
“There are so many factors, and we’re finding a lot of people are still going to walk in their own areas on the same day.
“Some don’t feel comfortable with meeting on the Hill and are cautious about being in a massed crowd. We will still send them bunny ears, and support them.”
For those walking in Bury there will be medals and hot drinks at the finish line, plus cakes which will be individually packaged this year because of Covid precautions.
Marshals will be positioned around the route as usual and there will be water stops for thirsty walkers.
Also returning are the singers and players whose music keeps people striding out with a welcome boost of rhythm along the way. A ukelele band and Bury’s Glenmoriston Pipe Band are among the musicians this year.
The event’s main sponsor this year is property company Jaynic, developer of Bury’s Suffolk Park.
“We have a lot of long-standing support returning, including marshals, walkers, and suppliers,” said Charlie.
“We will have the usual stage set up on Angel Hill. This year we’re going to celebrate our Covid heroes, people who have gone above and beyond in the last year for us.”
They include people like the Sew for St Nic’s group started on Facebook by supporter Jo Birch, which made scrubs, syringe driver bags and surgical mask ‘ear savers’, and others who have done fundraising challenges.
Girls’ Night Out-ers have the usual choice of two routes around Bury, opting to walk six miles or the more challenging 11.2 miles.
“We do encourage people to do a bit of training because it can be quite intense,” she said.
“The atmosphere is wonderful. We have some wonderful supporters, some who have done it from year one, and some new people.
“We want to make it special for those returning and for the new walkers. We really missed having it last year.”
There will be memory boards on Angel Hill and at the hospice, where its family support team will be on hand. “It’s such a very emotional event for a lot of people,” she added. “We’ll also have a memory minute at the start to remember those we have lost.”
Charlie, who returned to work last November following maternity leave and time on furlough, said: “We wanted to get Girls’ Night Out going but were a bit uncertain as to how it might look.
“We hope it will be back to the old spirit – we want to put on the best event we can for people and grow it again.
“More marshals are also needed, as well as people to stand along the route to clap people on and encourage them. We can never have too many.
“It’s different running it now, but the general impression from speaking to walkers is the excitement of having it back. It’s good for the town.”
Back again this year, and wearing their bunny ears with pride, will be mother and daughter Joy Crown and Alice Bagwell-Crown.
They will be pulling on their pyjamas and tackling the 11.2 mile route in memory of two loved ones.
Alice said: “I first took part in Girls Night Out 12 years ago with my mum, walking in memory of my dear Grandad Derrick, who was cared for so wonderfully by the hospice when he cruelly died of multiple cancers in 2009. He was my anchor in life’s storms.
“Less than a year later, we needed the care of the hospice again, when my Grandma Eileen was taken by pancreatic cancer.
“I cannot thank the devoted nurses, doctors, chaplains and staff enough. They are wonderful people who try to grant those they care for their dying wishes and provide them with as much comfort and dignity as possible.”
Joy was able to be with her parents day and night in their last few days. “I will always be indebted to the hospice for their care of the people I loved more than life itself, and the support they gave to my family both physically and mentally.
“Coping with their illnesses at home was incredibly difficult, and once they were in the care of the hospice, it gave me a sense of peace and calm. It felt safe there.
“I will never be able to thank the staff enough for what they did for us and feel that by walking every year, I can give back to them in a small way,” she said.
Registrations for the walk are open online until 9am on Thursday, September 9, and cost £20 per person, with those taking part encouraged to raise £100 sponsorship.
Minimum age to walk is 14. Under 18s need consent from a parent or guardian, and must walk with an adult.
Walkers can sign in from 6.30pm and set off at 8pm. Go to the website www.girlsnightoutwalk.co.uk for more information and to register as a walker or marshal.