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Boat race and bridge jump – How it all began

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: January 06, 2014

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CAST your mind back to 1983. Jim Breeze and a group of friends, along with his sons Shaun, Antony and Andrew, were enjoying a drink in the Okeover Arms and thought it would be funny to jump off the Bridge on New Years Day, raising some money for charity in the process.

The idea blossomed and a raft race was added - to start with the the rafts were made using barrels, then competitors began building their own.

In 1989 organisers began building their own boats out of wood and these were used for several years until their weight and maintenance became problematic and a shopping trip was made to the Boat Show at the NEC in Birmingham for new equipment.

The event’s commentator Ann Smith recalls: “We used to meet in the summer time to discuss which charity we were going to use for the next New Year but we used to get so drunk we had trouble remembering which one we had chosen, 100 percent true.

I have been commentating for around 25 years. As the event was becoming so popular and hundreds were coming down new years’ day I was asked to commentate, because I have the biggest Mouth. Charming! But that’s how it was.

“I have commentated on top of various vans, scaffold towers and of course Peak Waste’s Cherry Picker which is what we use now, except this year as it broke down on its way to Mappleton.

“I’m always harnessed in. George Dutton provides the harness. Pete Mellor has provided the ladder every year. He’s been involved around 25 years, maybe longer.”

Every penny raised at the bridge jump is given to the chosen charity, no expenses are taken and the organising team relies on the generosity of locals and businesses to provide equipment and man-power.

Last year, when organiser and founder Jim Breeze passed away, the Ashbourne Lions took over the organisation and pledged to keep it as traditional as possible.

Charities that have benefitted from the money raised includes British Heart Foundation, various Cancer charities, and deaf, blind charity. This year’s charity Defibrillators for Ashbourne.

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