Boxing Day Challenge

Winston’s Wish gives thanks to local family and the community in fond reflection of its bygone Boxing Day Challenge

Earlier this year, Winston’s Wish made the difficult decision to withdraw its popular community event, the Boxing Day Challenge, which it ran for ten years at The Cheltenham Racecourse.

As Christmas falls upon us, the charity reflects on the event’s rich history, and gives deepest thanks to the Cheltenham family at its roots and heart – and to all those who helped to make it happen along the way:

1996 – 2018:

James Brewer was just a boy when his father, Malcom Brewer sadly died in 1996. Malcolm Brewer was an avid runner and so, when James heard some years’ later about plans to cancel a well-loved Boxing Day fun run in his hometown of Cheltenham, he decided that he would take over the organisation of the run in his father’s memory – with the aim of making it more accessible for the community. He was just 20 at the time.

James and his two sisters, Jo and Caroline, (along with their mum Heather), were supported by UK childhood bereavement charity, Winston’s Wish, following their father’s death. The founder of the charity, Julie Stokes, supported the siblings as they came to terms with their grief.

James contacted the charity to share his idea for the race in the hope that all of the proceeds could benefit other grieving children across the UK. He soon sought a venue to help with his ambitious plans and, thanks to the then Managing Director of Cheltenham Racecourse, Edward Gillespie, The Boxing Day Challenge was born in 2008. The family shared how moved they were that Mr Gillespie was willing to put so much faith in James, effectively giving him free-reign of the Best Mates Enclosure at the course for the purpose of the run.

With a venue secured, James tirelessly rallied the community to support the event. From the ladies of the Prestbury WI – who baked hundreds of mince pies for the runners – to the corporate sponsors, and all of the ‘unsung heroes’ from the local area – who came together to help stake out the course, marshal the route, support with registration and collate the results – it was truly a team effort to make sure that the race was a roaring success.

In the first year, the race was won by Peter Holmes, who sadly also died the following year. Known affectionately by his friends and family as ‘Pistol Pete’, a trophy in his memory has been awarded to every winner of the race ever since.

There were two groups in particular who threw their weight behind The Boxing Day Challenge: the ‘Almost Athletes’ and Cheltenham Harriers supported James to help make his plans a reality. In particular, Elliott Prince, Coach of the Harriers, went above and beyond to show his support for the festive fundraiser. Thanks should also be extended to Ian Renton who honoured the commitment of the racecourse for the run after succeeding Edward as Managing Director of the racecourse.

Between 2008 and 2018, the Boxing Day Challenge grew steadily in attendance, becoming a well-loved local event and a highlight of the festive calendar.

Head of Community and Corporate Engagement at Winston’s Wish, Paul Moore, honoured the event:  “More than a family fun day, The Boxing Day Challenge created an opportunity to bring together those who found the Christmas period to be a particularly lonely time and for the community to show their support for the bereaved simply by showing up.

“While the charity had to make the very difficult decision to withdraw the event this year, we remain incredibly grateful to James, his family and to all those who have made the event possible over the years.  It brought many defining moments for both the charity and for the family, who have shared how grateful they were for the part the event played in all of their lives. We will continue to remember the event’s special heritage, and all of the successes and memorable moments created along the way.”