No ducking the issue as race beats chill

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SANDWICHED between the University Boat Race and the Grand National this year came the Endcliffe Park Duck Race.

It may not be quite be up there in terms of longevity and profile, but over five years it has become something of an institution in south west Sheffield.

And when the Friends of the Porter Valley put their hand to an event, there is usually no stopping them.

This time the volunteers made sure that the snow and ice had been cleared from paths in the park to allow a crowd of up to 2,000 to watch safely as 2,500 plastic ducks bobbed along the river through Endcliffe Park on Easter Monday afternoon.

There were even a few flakes of snow as the race started in the unseasonably low temperatures.

Marshalls warned parents to take care of children straining from the muddy river bank for a better view, although, perhaps inevitably, one tot got an unexpected dunking. (The child was immediately hoisted out, had wet clothes removed and checked by St John Ambulance and was later deemed to be fine, if somewhat startled).

It is thought the race will have raised more than £7,000 for the project to restore Forge Dam, further along the valley.

“We have become experts in running duck races,” said Ann le Sage, who chairs the Friends. “We had sun and sandals one year, then pouring rain and now we have run it in winter.

“The running of the race had really been threatened by the weather this year. On the Tuesday volunteers chipped the ice off the paths and steps in Endcliffe Park, which later proved its value because later light snowfalls had nowhere to stick. As a result the council trusted us to get every other safety risk covered, and we did.

“We carefully checked wind speed for the shelters, the banks for slippery mud, the brook for its depth and flow, and cleaned out all the glass and tin cans so everywhere was safe and ready. We placed marshalls along the course and cordoned off bits that looked risky.

“We think up to 2,000 people turned out for the day to spend time somewhere along the stretch of the race - about a third of a mile.”

Ann added: “The atmosphere was wonderful. There was a real sense of community and fun after the winter gloom. Everyone was smiling and chatting and laughing.”

As well as proceeds from the sale of the ducks, contributions from stallholders were being counted this week.

After steering the restoration and reopening of the Shepherd Wheel at the bottom of Bingham Park, the Friends of Porter Valley are working with the council on a project to desilt Forge Dam and to improve its surroundings.

The full £250,000 will be needed before work can start. “We can’t do the desilting in dribs and drabs,” said Ann.

Money from the Endcliffe Park duck race will go into the pot, while bids for significant grants are made to the likes of waste management company Viridor and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Friends can be excused a bit of a breather, though. “It’s fun and for a good cause, but it’s hard work.”