Touring St Albans on the Santa’s Round Table float
PUBLISHED: 15:09 22 December 2011
WITH the rain lashing down and an arctic wind whipping through the streets, it wasn’t the most obvious night to get into the Christmas mood.
But festive spirit was exactly what I was in for as I joined St Albans Round Table’s annual Santa float.
Bright red, decorated with Christmas lights and playing seasonal classics whilst St Nick sits on board waving, the float is hard to miss.
Red-cloaked and sporting a Santa hat, I set off with the 46 Club (the Round Table’s senior section) from the Speckled Hen pub in Hatfield Road at 6.30pm for a festive two-and-a-half-hour walk through the Highfield estate.
Although a relatively new route, many children – and parents alike – were waiting excitedly for the sleigh.
Jamie Ferguson, who has organised the float for two years, said: “People are expecting us and I know that lots of children stay up late to catch a glimpse of Santa.”
Despite the rain, one little girl ran out barefooted to wave to Father Christmas. She told me confidently that he would be back to see her again on Christmas Day.
Jamie added: “It is hard work, but we do realise that the Santa float is something of an institution in St Albans, the local people love it and are really generous.”
Santa’s shouts of “Merry Christmas” were restrained at first but got louder and more enthusiastic as the rain turned from a drizzle to a torrent.
On its first night alone, the float raised over £600 and 46 Club member, Alan Whittingham, told me that the float has raised more than £10,000 in previous years. Travelling 18 different routes during December, he hopes this year will be a good one.
The float is manned entirely by volunteers and money is collected and distributed locally.
He explained: “The Round Table supports many local charities. We put together Christmas food parcels for many people in the city and we take those round to disabled people or those who do not have a very bright Christmas ahead.
“When you see the reaction when a box of groceries is delivered to someone really needy, you see that it really does make a difference.”
Jamie said of the £2,500 spent on food parcels: “This is the single most important thing that we do and it really does open our eyes to need within our own community.”
This year’s floats will benefit local charities Homestart, Youth Talk, Three Valleys Club, St Albans 41 Club, Grove House and ReachOutPlus and St Albans Ladies Circle.
For the rest of the year, the Round Table is a vibrant social club. “We are just a bunch of guys who like to have a beer and a curry,” explained Alan.
Activities over the past year include playing Real Tennis at Hatfield House, touring the Olympic site and visiting the University of Hertfordshire’s student racing facility. “Their Formula 1 simulator couldn’t cope with our driving and gave up,” Jamie added.
In contrast, the float – constructed on the back of a 1970s milk float – ran smoothly despite the rain.
Volunteers told me how, in previous years, the sleigh has suffered numerous breakdowns. One year the AA had to be called out to rescue it! But it has come a long way from its beginnings in the 1950s as a decorated trailer with a gramophone.
At the end of the evening, Alan said: “It would be fair to say that tonight was probably the wettest night we have ever been out on.”
But whilst my tin filled up with money – and my trainers with water – I realised that this damp December evening was inescapably festive. True, generous Christmas spirit existed amongst those soggy but dedicated Round Table volunteers who gave up their evening to bring Santa to enchanted St Albans children.
The Round Table always welcomes new members. To find out more, visit http://www.stalbansroundtable.org.uk/.