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'This little idea has touched so many' - the remarkable success of Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run

PUBLISHED: 10:06 05 July 2019 | UPDATED: 10:15 05 July 2019

Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run organiser Annie Chapman behind the wheel. Picture: Jonathan Slack

Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run organiser Annie Chapman behind the wheel. Picture: Jonathan Slack

© Jonathan Slack 2017

It started out as a spur of the moment suggestion as a low key retirement project but the Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run has since become a hugely popular event, raising over £640,000 for breast cancer and touching the lives of countless women.

The convoy of tractors make its way through Harleston during the 15th Annual Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run in aid of Cancer Research UK. Picture: PA Wire/PA ImagesThe convoy of tractors make its way through Harleston during the 15th Annual Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run in aid of Cancer Research UK. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images

Dozens of pink tractors will again parade through the streets of Harleston and the surrounding Norfolk and Suffolk countryside on the 16th annual event on Sunday, July 7.

For organiser Annie Chapman, 77, it has become a major part of her life, taking up much of the year, and seen her receive a British Empire Medal for her services to charity.

With husband John she also runs the David Brown Tractor Club — they own 15 vintage tractors and six combines — and the original idea was for women to get behind the wheel. The first pink parade was in 2004 with 50 ladies taking part.

The Pink Ladies come from as far afield as Scotland and Dorset to drive a vintage tractor and raise money for breast cancer research. Picture: Jonathan SlackThe Pink Ladies come from as far afield as Scotland and Dorset to drive a vintage tractor and raise money for breast cancer research. Picture: Jonathan Slack

Mrs Chapman said: "Very few of the ladies had ever driven a tractor or had access to a tractor even on the first one. That was really the challenge. Obviously it going to be for charity and the most obvious was breast cancer as a friend of ours had just been diagnosed."

The pink theme quickly took off and today participants go to extravagant lengths with decorate the tractors including event giant bras with flashing lights for nipples.

"In the first year people had balloons and bows but then gradually it just really caught on," she said. "There is no reward for competition but some of the tractors are stunning, you can hardly see the tractors for pink flowers, animals, toys, it is extraordinary the ideas people come up with."

The Annual Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run for Cancer Research UK.

Picture: Nick ButcherThe Annual Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run for Cancer Research UK. Picture: Nick Butcher

While some of the ladies bring their own tractor most are novices who undergoing training before getting on boards a borrowed vintage tractor.

Mrs Chapman said: "The first challenge is to find a tractor and learn to drive it safely. That is why we are so reliant on some of these tractors owners to teach these ladies how to drive properly.

"A lot of people know people who have tractors or I have gentlemen ring me up and say I lost my wife to breast cancer so I would like my tractor to go on your run."

The Annual Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run. Picture: Stuart AlexanderThe Annual Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run. Picture: Stuart Alexander

Ladies now travel from as far as Lancashire, Dorset, Hampshire, Birmingham and Scotland to take part. Some are breast cancer survivors others have had their lives touched by the disease.

"Some of them have had breast cancer. Some have lost relatives or friends through breast cancer. We have lost a few along the way which is very sad," said Mrs Chapman.

"We had one lady who had done the run a few times but whose breast cancer came back and she sadly died. But her daughter, who was 21 at the time, brought her mother's tractor down and did the run six weeks after her mother had died."

Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run organiser Annie Chapman behind the wheel. Picture: Jonathan SlackPink Ladies Tractor Road Run organiser Annie Chapman behind the wheel. Picture: Jonathan Slack

This year's run is dedicated to Margaret Gaunt one of the regular Pink Ladies who had raised a huge amount of sponsorship over the years and whose family helps keep it running. Her brother Rob White is the tractor run chief mechanic, while her son Gareth is involved on the day.

This year's run will gain starts at Thorpe Abbotts airfield at 11.30am and will pass through Thorpe Abbotts (11.50am), Brockdish (noon), arriving in Harleston where hundreds line the streets at 12.30pm, before participants enjoy a picnic at Gawdy Hall meadow at Redenhall.

The afternoon route then takes in Pulham St Mary (3.55pm), Rushall (4.05pm), Langmere Green (4.15pm) before returning to Thorpe Abbotts airfield.

The convoy of tractors make its way through Harleston during the 15th Annual Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run in aid of Cancer Research UK. Picture: PA Wire/PA ImagesThe convoy of tractors make its way through Harleston during the 15th Annual Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run in aid of Cancer Research UK. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images

As well as sponsorship there will be roadside collections and while the runs have so far raised £640,000, Mrs Chapman dreams of topping a million by the 20th annual event.

She said: "It would be nice to get to £1m by then. All we can do is keep going. It's extraordinary that this little idea has grown into something so big."

- Full details of the Pink Ladies Tractor Run

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