Santas flood the streets of Oxford

Santas in Oxford about to set off James Lyons

Oxford city centre was painted red and white on yesterday as 1,700 people dressed in Santa suits took part in the 2 mile festive fun run in aid of local hospice for children and young adults, Helen & Douglas House.

Now in its 8th year, it is one of the largest and most popular Santa Runs in the UK, with places selling out over a month before the event. Helen & Douglas House cares for terminally ill children, young adults and their families through their hospice care. They provide medical, emotional and practical support, helping families deal with the implications of living with a child who will die prematurely, so they can make the most of their time together. As a charity they rely almost entirely on donations to support these families.

Participants started arriving at 8am in buses, cars and on bicycles and started to gather around the stage area near the Bodleian Library on Catte Street. A record number of people were running in teams this year from local businesses, schools, local cub packs, or with friends and family. Breakfast for the Santas was of course mince pies, and over 1,500 of them were given out by elves outside the Radcliffe Camera; the festive treats having been kindly donated by Sainsbury’s branches at Beaconsfield and Heyford Hill.

The starting gun went off at 9.15am to a loud cheer, as all the Santas set off to walk, run or jog the 2-mile route. The first runner back at the finish line just 10 minutes later was Simon Freeman from the Holiday Lettings team; second was 16-year old Sam Johns from Crowmarsh Gifford and third was 17-year Michael Price Abingdon.

Poppy Hanbury, Senior Community & Events Fundraiser at Helen & Douglas House said: “The day went really well and the weather was perfect – cold, crisp and bright. It was such an amazing sight seeing so many Santas and elves in one place at one time. There was a wonderful festive atmosphere and everyone seemed to have a lot of fun taking part with lots of smiles and laughter.

“We are hoping this event will raise £70,000, which could pay for 10 days of specialist hospice care over the Christmas period.”

Amongst the runners, were the parents and twin brother of Ben Illingworth, who died in October 2012. Ben suffered from Sanfilippo Syndrome, which is a metabolism disorder causing developmental delay and significant neurological symptoms. Ben’s twin brother Ollie also has the condition and still attends Helen House for respite care. Mum Fi, 43, and dad Mike 40, from Witney, took part in this year’s run with 42 family and friends, while pushing 13 year-old Ollie in his wheelchair, as part of ‘Team Benji’.

Mike said: “We took part in ‘Santas on the Run’ in memory of our wonderful son Ben who we sadly lost in October 2012. Ben’s twin brother Ollie still goes to Helen House for respite care. The staff have offered us such a broad range of support over the years and they have become a second family to us.

“We enjoy taking part in ‘Santas on the Run’ as it’s a really fun event with a great atmosphere and for such an amazing cause. It allows us as a family to do something positive to remember our son Ben with family and friends and to say thanks for all Helen House has done for us. We have raised £2,500 and are the event’s top fundraiser. Some people think Helen & Douglas House is a well off charity but they are not and they desperately need money to support families like ours.”

You can still support the teams taking part in Santas on the Run by making a donation via the charity’s website at

Mike Ollie and Fi Illingworth (front row) from Witney and Team Benji

Picture: James Lyons