Raft race cancelled after 40 years

Pictures from the 25th anniversary raft race. Photo: Mark Williamson.

THE Wellesbourne and Shakespeare Lions’ Raft Race has been axed — just a year after it celebrated its 40th anniversary.

A steady decline in entrants, health and safety concerns, and competition from other fundraising events have all contributed to the decision to cancel the event.

Organisers also blamed what they described as ‘the increasingly parlous state of the River Avon that makes navigation problematic’ and difficulties agreeing a date with Charlecote Park, which the race runs through, due to its wildlife conservation concerns.

The raft race was first held in 1976 when it raised £1,800 for Selly Oak Hospital Children’s Kidney Unit. This year was its 41st run. At the height of its popularity, there were over 300 rafts on the starting line, but in recent years numbers have been falling.

In 2016 58 entrants raised around £14,000 for Mencap, but this year that was down to £3,500 raised for Riding for the Disabled (RDA) by 38 rafters.

Charles Williams, president of Wellesbourne and District Lions’ Club, said: “Quite simply, the raft race has had its day. “When you look at the stats, there’s a steady decline in numbers but the costs are fixed.

“We’ve become more and more aware of health and safety issues, but also there are fewer and fewer organisations that have the facilities, space and materials to build the rafts. “There’s also the dragon boat races that mean they can achieve objectives to their community, but just turn up on the day.

“The raft race takes up our time every day for ten months and last year raised £3,500, whereas I was with the Santa sleigh the other night and collected £365 in just two hours. “We’ve raised £750,000 over the past 41 years, which has been fantastic. A lot of people put in a lot of effort and it’s been very rewarding and great to work the Shakespeare Lions, but we will now have a look at something else we can do together.”

This year’s winners were T-Far T-Go, who completed the seven-and-a-half-mile course in one hour, eight minutes and 19 seconds – one minute short of the course record that was set in 2013 by Wonder Why Saskwatch.