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Pontefract Local History

THE PRINCE OF WALES HOSPICE
IN PONTEFRACT


PART THREE - MOMENTS IN HISTORY


OLIVER WALKER

Prince of Wales Hospice Pontefract Marathon

One of the most memorable moments in fundraising for the hospice took place on 15th May 1983 when a half marathon was organised in Pontefract Park.

At that time, the hospice was still six years away from being built and was desperately in need of funds to help get the project off the ground. In October 1982, inspired by the inaugural London Marathon and the rising fitness craze, Graham Townend of the Yorkshire Evening Post approached Roger Norton, a former Oxford University Athletics Blue, and suggested that the Five Towns Hospice Fund organise their own marathon as a means to raise funds.

Roger, as race co-ordinator, was aided by Chairman John Hanson, Secretary Gordon Tollefson, future chairman David Ashton, future Vice Chairman Mary Berwick, Fund Treasurer Sheila Davis and Support Group Liaison Officer Greta Sharkey. They met together and a plan was formulated. It was decided that a half marathon would take place in May of the following year and the venue would be Pontefract Park. However, several obstacles had to be overcome before the event could take place.

In order to comply with stringent Athletics Association rules, consultations with Wakefield Council, the police, ambulance, racecourse and railway officials were required so that the appropriate permits could be obtained. The running of the event required the help of over 100 supporters including pupils of local schools, Girl Guides and Yorkshire Lions as well as the support groups and their friends and family. As well as the race itself, the event also included various stalls that were staffed by members of the Five Towns Hospice Fund to encourage non-runners to donate money.

In total, 1,158 people, including several Olympians, ran the 13½ mile route around Glasshoughton, Cutsyke, Whitwood, Normanton, Ackton, Featherstone, Purston and Ackworth. The most famous entrant was local television personality Jimmy Saville. Saville, then in his late 50’s, had declined invitations to participate in similar events in other areas of the country, but decided differently when he was asked if he would like to participate in the hospice half-marathon because he had been a pit ‘Bevan Boy’ in South Kirkby and felt an attachment to the surrounding area.

By taking part he was able to generate valuable publicity for the event and the cause that it was in aid of. His involvement certainly encouraged many other runners to enter and because of this the number of entrants far surpassed expectations.

Saville ran in a team of five, which also included singer David Dalmour, teacher Tony Smith, sports centre official Neil Littlewood and Leeds Infirmary administrator Alan Franey. Their busy training schedule looked like this:

  • Week 1: walk and jog for two miles for five days
  • Week 2: jog three miles on five day
  • Week 3: jog six miles on five days
  • Week 4: jog eight miles on five days
  • Week 5: jog ten miles on four days
  • Week 6: jog 11 miles on three days
  • Week 7: run the entire distance once

The year before the Pontefract event, super-fit Jimmy Saville ran in eight full and six half-marathons and ran a further six full marathons during 1983.

The hospice race was eventually won by Askern miner Don Weigel with a time of 1 hour, 10 minutes and 30 seconds. The event proved to be huge success and raised over £12,000 for the hospice funds. It went on to be an annual fund-raising event for the hospice and was enhanced in 1985 by the addition of a smaller ‘fun-run’, which is still held annually.

Jimmy Saville’s participation in the first half-marathon was a turning point for the hospice fund. His personal support for the hospice continued when he ran the half marathon again the following year, but more importantly it was Saville who contacted The Prince of Wales convincing him to lend his support to the hospice project too.

If you would like more information on any of our fund-raising activities please call the fundraising office on 01977 708868.


The above article was written by Oliver Walker with assistance from Phyl Hague, Greta Sharkey. Roger Norton and Laura Bennett.


Other articles about the Pontefract Hospice by Oliver Walker

Prince of Wales Hospice in Pontefract Part One - Laying the Foundations 
Prince of Wales Hospice in Pontefract Part Two - Support Groups 
Prince of Wales Hospice in Pontefract Part Four - Flower Funds and Gardens


 

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