Covid dilemma: Can Knaresborough Bed Race happen this year amid lockdown and uncertainty over virus

June may feel a long way off but will things change enough to bring back Knaresborough Bed Race and allow time for all this massive charity event's organisational challenges to be overcome?

Monday, 11th January 2021, 3:36 pm
Updated Monday, 11th January 2021, 3:40 pm

The dilemma facing many sectors of life as the Covid pandemic rolls on was exposed this week when news came that the date for this year’s Great Knaresborough Bed Race was under review.

It’s not a decision organisers Knaresborough Lions will have taken lightly.

The winners of the fancy dress parade from the 2019 Great Knaresborough Bed Race - Richard Taylor School of Harrogate with their Yorkshire Sculpture Park bed. (Picture by Gerard Binks)

This spectacular fixture in the calendar not only raised thousands of pounds for charity, it’s also one of the most popular annual outdoor events in the Harrogate district, attracting tens of thousands of spectators.

Part fancy dress pageant and part gruelling time trial, its contribution to the town’s summer economy is huge. In 2013 alone, the Knaresborough Chamber of Trade estimated that Bed Race day had generated £350,000.

After the bed race was cancelled last summer during Covid, there were high hopes that the date set for 2021 - June 12 - would be a safe bet.

But, with the nation in full lockdown again, the Lions say the uncertainty surrounding how the Covid situation is likely to develop is making it hard to commit to the event’s traditional date on the second Saturday in June.

Flashback to a previous Great Knaresborough Bed Race and the Pannal Primary School team taking part in the parade. (Picture by Gerard Binks)

Kevin Lloyd, chairman of the Knaresborough Bed Race 2021 organising Committee, said: “It is just too early to say when we will be able to hold Bed Race 2021. There is so much that is still uncertain about the virus, its vaccines and the likely rules kept in place by the authorities.

“Things might clear up and we are always optimistic, but we have to be sensible of the issues.”

Days have changed since the event first took place in 1966 when just four teams tackled the 2.4 mile course.

Along with more teams, more spectators, more national media interest and more sponsorship, has come a lot more logistics.

In an era of health and safety, the responsibilities resting on the shoulders of volunteers at Knaresborough Lions have multiplied.

Held on a course which takes the teams and their beds around the streets of Knaresborough, through the Gorge and across High Bridge, before finishing with a swim across the ever-icy River Nidd, Knaresborough Bed Race has become a military operation planned with meticulous care.

Kevin Lloyd said: “The horizon has to be clear for June, or a later month if that becomes necessary.

“So much preparation has to start well before the event, not least the training of the teams around the streets.

“Beds have to be built, decorations have to be designed and made and we, as organisers, have much preparation and briefing to do. A clear run-up to the event is vital.”

The Lions aren’t ones to let the Bed Race’s proud history be derailed easily.

Last year saw them asking the public to take part in the usual festivities from home with the launch of its virtual event, Bed Race 2020 Unplugged.

Even this was no small task, involving Knaresborough’s town crier, the Mayor of Knaresborough, a Virtual Parade and a Virtual Race with judging and winners - all taking place at the exact times of the original Bed Race schedule.

The whole shebang was even streamed live courtesy of Stray FM and Sirastudio, a Harrogate-based photographers and video production company.

Organisers have not made any final decision yet about this year’s event, though the new national lockdown announced this week has not improved prospects.

The official statement from the Knaresborough Lions says that a huge array of arrangements necessary to present the 2021 Great Knaresborough Bed Race on the second Saturday in June have been put on hold rather than cancelled.

It’s a big decision to make. On a normal year, the event needs a 250-plus volunteer army of crowd safety marshals sourced from the Bed Race teams themselves, other Lions clubs in the area, Rotary and Round Table members, plus people from sports clubs, charity groups and community groups.

The end result is a lot of money for charity - including a surplus of £20,000 to £30,000 generated for the Lions who donate nearly £10,000 paid out to community and charity groups, plus the involvement of the charities in putting on fund-raising games and activities in the Conyngham Hall area, not to forget the efforts of the team themselves, who often raise as much as £5,000 each for good local causes.

The Lions say that meetings with the authorities and discussions within the Lions Club will be taking place to decide whether its is now feasible to hold the event in just over five months time.

And, as always, they remain positive.

Kevin Lloyd said: “We, as Lions, remain committed to bringing it back.

“It is now a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘whether’.

“We hope that people will stay safe, socially distanced and remain optimistic for a much better 2021!”

A short history of Knaresborough Bed Race

Regarded by people in the Harrogate district as one of the most enjoyable days of the year, the Great Knaresborough Bed Race is a worldwide phenomenon born in humble beginnings.

First launched in June 1966 as a fundraising venture for charity by the newly-formed Knaresborough Round Table, that inaugural event attracted four teams from the local military and a small number of spectators.

The winners were the Army Apprentices College in Harrogate in a time of 24 minutes 22 seconds with the US Army from Menwith Hill finishing last.

Since then the winning time has been more than halved while the number of entrants has risen to 90 teams including 630 runners and passengers battling it out in front of nearly 30,000 spectators.

Regarded as one of the UK’s most unusual traditions, the event attracted national TV coverage from its earliest years.

In 1990, the late Yorkshire-born entertainer Roy Castle even turned up in Knaresborough to film the race for his BBC Record Breakers programme.

As its fame spread, the Bed Race didn’t just draw teams from abroad to take part, it also spawned copy cat events.

Similar events started up in Germany and the USA, then spread to the likes of Auckland, New Zealand, Naples, Florida and more.

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