HUNDREDS of soggy Santas endured freezing conditions and lashing rain to raise much-needed funds for a hospice that is fighting back from the pandemic.

A sea of Santa Clauses gathered in the school hall, at West Park Academy, Darlington, for an ‘elf and safety’ briefing before embarking on the 9th 5km fun run, across the grounds and around a neighbouring park, for St Teresa’s Hospice.

The first in-person festive fundraiser since 2019, Darlington’s mayor Cyndi Hughes was official starter and medal presenter for the event which attracted 223 competitors and seven dogs and is expected to raise thousands of pounds for the coffers.

St Teresa’s Hospice chief executive Jane Bradshaw said: “It is our absolute privilege to do what we do and this event means such a lot to us as it helps us keep going.

“It has been a very difficult past few years but the community which started our hospice has helped us survive.”

Rotary Club Darlington contributed towards Santa suits and hats for competitors while members also acted as marshals.

A raffle and range of merchandise stalls raised additional funding for the hospice. The event was also supported by Stan Seaton Photography, Usborne Books, 1st Stop Party Shop, Aldi West Park, Asda Darlington, Cockerton Methodist Church, Darlington Lions Club, JMP Medical, MKM Building Supplies, and the White Heifer That Travelled.

The hospice needs to raise £3m a year to provide free in-patient and community care for people living with life-limiting illnesses and their families in Darlington, South Durham and North Yorkshire.

For competitor Marilyn Wake, the event was an opportunity to support the hospice which helped her and her husband Michael after he was diagnosed with cancer.

“My friends Carole Hudson and Lyn Simpson have run it for a few years so I thought I’d join them, despite having a heart attack last year which meant I had to have a stent,” she said. “We are soaking wet but warm inside and I think this has been good for everyone.”

Carol said: “I love to do things for the hospice and have completed the Santa Run for the past six years.”

Lyn added: “I like the fact that we are helping a local charity and can see where the money goes every time we pass the hospice on the bus. It is such a good cause.”

A team also took part from Darlington’s Hippodrome Theatre. Marketing officer Jonny Lancaster explained: “St Teresa’s is one of our chosen charities and normally we collect donations in buckets during the panto seasons but couldn’t last year because of COVID. “Instead we staged a virtual run so it was great this year to actually take part in the proper event. It was wet but great fun. It is a fantastic cause close to the hearts of a lot of local people.”