AS the setting sun turned the clouds above Blackburn’s Soccerdome pale shades of pink and violet, 500 women from all walks of life were getting ready to unite for East Lancashire Hospice.
The Starlight Walk is a sponsored walk with a difference.
Walking boots and back packs are shunned in favour of neon tutus, flashing tiaras, feather boas and more sparkle and glitter than a Santa’s grotto on the set of Strictly Come Dancing.
The women-only walk started at 10pm on Saturday and ladies chose a route of five or eight miles along Blackburn’s starlit streets, marshalled by 70 volunteers, and managed to raise more than £35,000.
This year, there was a Strictly Come Dancing theme and so instead of Olympic-style stretches and lunges, participants warmed up with a 1920s-inspired Charleston, led by a real-life flapper girl complete with white fringed dress and feather headdress.
Music and a live performance from salsa dancers from DAPA, Eanam Wharf ensured there was a party atmosphere.
Shouts and giggles could be heard at every turn — all this before the walk had even begun.
With so much fun in the air, it was easy to forget that many of the women congregated in the Haslingden Road car park had chosen to walk for deeply personal reasons, many still battling with the raw grief after a loved one has passed away.
Every woman had the name of someone who had been helped by East Lancashire Hospice in their final days or hours emblazoned on the back of their Starlight Walk T-shirt.
Some had plaques on which they had drawn pictures and written the names of lost family members and friends: auntie, mum, granddad, best friend.
Everyone has been touched or inspired by the care the hospice provides to the community.
Blackburn mum Martine Read was celebrating her 37th birthday on the walk, as well as her daughter Halona’s 11th birthday.
Her eyes filled with tears as she spoke about why she decided to do the Starlight Walk. The 37-year-old said: “My grandma had cancer and my auntie is still fighting it.
“My grandma had a bit of care from the hospice and I just thought, it’s so important that people get that.
“If people didn’t come out and do stuff like this, the hospice wouldn’t be able to keep going and they do such a good job. I just wanted to help. For my grandma and for everyone else.”
For 30 years, East Lancashire Hospice has provided care for people suffering from life-limiting illnesses.
They have no government funding and continue to thrive solely thanks to the support of the community.
Every day, the hospice needs to raise £8,200 to keep going. That’s more than £3million a year.
Louise Newsham, a 43-year-old accounts clerk from Darwen, was ready in her tutu for the full eight miles.
She said: “You just never know when you might need that sort of care.”
Louise was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and has undergone a course of radiotherapy and surgery.
She added: “I won’t get the all-clear for five years, but I’m all right at the moment.
“Things like that happen and it just makes you realise how important the hospice is. Anybody could need it at any time in their life.
“My granddad, Frank Whittle, was helped by the hospice. They came out to visit him at home and were with him nearly every night. They were just fabulous with him and we were so grateful.”
A team of best friends from Darwen signed up to walk following the death of their friend Sarah Glover, a mother-of-two who was just 36 when she lost her battle with cervical cancer in February.
Vicky Hogan, a 28-year-old teacher at St James’ Lower Darwen said: “Our friend Sarah was so well cared for at the hospice.
“We all saw the great work that they do.
“After what happened to Sarah, we all decided to walk together in her memory. It’s still hard to believe she’s gone but you’ve got to do what you can. ”
Organiser and fundraiser at East Lancashire Hospice, Denise Gee said: “£36, 561 has been pledged and it was an amazing event.
“Everyone has a story to tell and there’s such passion from everyone involved. I am so proud of everyone who gave their time to make a massive difference to help care for the patients and their families.
“I would also like to give massive thanks for the freemasons and Lancashire Police who helped to keep the women safe and marshall the event. Without them, the whole thing wouldn’t be possible and they were just fantastic.”