Peace Hospice Care’s tenth and final Starlight Walk took place on 9th July 2016. It was the end of the Hospice’s most successful and most popular fundraising event which had consistently exceeded expectations since it started back in 2007. Altogether, some 10,000 walkers took part over the ten years and over £1.5 million was raised for the Hospice.
The Starlight Walk was inspired by the famous London Moonwalk, in which a group of ladies dressed in decorated bras walked the marathon distance of 26.2 miles at midnight to raise money and awareness for breast cancer. The idea was developed by Gill Crowson, formerly the Hospice’s Community fundraising manager, with support from the ladies of West Herts Golf Club, particularly ladies’ captain June Arnold and Linda Topping, who became chairman of the organising committee. The aims were clear from the start: to remember loved ones who had passed away, to raise money through sponsorship for the Peace Hospice, to keep (or become!) fit and to have fun – particularly in the company of friends and family.
The first Starlight Walk took place on 16th Jun 2007. The event was for women only, though men were encouraged to do their bit by helping with the organisation on the night and acting as marshals. A 13-mile course, equivalent to a half marathon, was devised. Starting at the Colosseum, the route was down the High Street to Bushey Arches, up Eastbury Road and through West Watford, up to Croxley and along the Green, down Baldwins Lane, through Cassiobury Park and back to the Colosseum. Over 1,000 women took part, setting off at midnight and raising £190,000 in sponsorship. Linda Topping led the walk, culminating in a triumphant progress down the middle of Cassiobury Drive, while June Arnold was on hand at the end to present a medal to every finisher.
The second year saw the first appearance of celebrity supporters Martin and Shirlie Kemp. Martin, who had found fame with Spandau Ballet and later became an actor, started the walk, while his wife Shirlie joined 1,240 other women in walking the course. That year a record £220,000 was raised. By the third year, many of what came to be recognised as Starlight traditions were in place. Martin Kemp was back to set the walkers on their way, while the refreshment stop at the fire station – with hunky firemen handing out water and bananas – had become a major reason for keeping going! There was also the beautiful display of candles in Cassiobury Park, offering an opportunity for calm and reflection before the final push to the finish.
2011 saw a change of venue – to West Herts College in Langley Road. For the first time, walkers were offered the option of walking just 6 miles rather than 13, which attracted a new constituency of older and younger walkers. Martin and Shirlie Kemp were appointed Patrons of the Hospice in recognition of their consistent support, while the organisers of the Starlight event were honoured to receive a Watford Audentior award.
The 2012 Walk had an Olympic theme, with specially designed light blue t-shirts decorated with a Union Jack pattern. The event returned to the Colosseum, which had been newly refurbished, and there was an earlier start at 10pm. This had become necessary partly because of the new county policy of switching off streetlights at midnight, but it proved a popular move. The weather, of course, played its part. The heavens opened half an hour before the 1,400 walkers set off and the event took place in torrential rain – not that it dampened the spirits of the participants.
2013 saw the debut of Stella, the Starlight mascot. This jaunty little character, decked out in purple and magenta, proved very popular particularly on visits to schools and children’s groups. Finally, 2016 marked the 25th anniversary of the Hospice and the 10th anniversary of the Starlight Walk. It seemed the right time to end the Starlight in its traditional form, though plans are already afoot to introduce a new walking event in 2017. This is likely to be based in Cassiobury Park with the addition of exciting interactive features for the whole family to enjoy.
This post is part of information gathered during Peace Hospice Care’s oral histories project 2014-16. The project captured 25 years of Peace Hospice Care and explored the legacy of the Peace Memorial Hospital. It was funded by the Heritage Lottery Foundation.
Find out more about Peace Hospice Care by visiting www.peacehospicecare.org.uk or the online project archive http://ourview.peacehospicecare.org.uk/ Oral histories from the project will be deposited with Hertfordshire Archive and Local Studies by end 2016.