Toy Run 2021 is almost upon us, and it is promising to be an “emotional” day for all involved on the event’s 35th anniversary.

The event started back in 1985 when 18 members of the Reading branch of the Christian Motorcyclists Association decided to drop presents off for children at Battle Hospital, it has now snowballed with as many as 2000 motorcycles riding from John Wood PLC (formerly known as Shire Hall) to Barnardo’s at High Close School.

This Sunday will see an emotional return for the event as motorcyclists don their fancy-dress outfits and adorn their bikes with all sorts of Christmas related decorations, riding from John Wood PLC to Barnardo’s at High Close School.

Last years event was cancelled due to lockdown restrictions, making it the first year since 1987 in which the Toy Run has not taken place, however a Toy Dump was established in its place allowing the community to leave toys at certain drop-off areas for the charity.

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Above: Toy Run participants in previous year

Not only that, one of the founder members, Ben Spiller sadly passed away this year.

Described as “the man who carried the vision and the heart of the Toy Run”, fellow founder member Sean Stillman believes that Ben’s legacy is seeing the Toy Run continue.

He said: “He really carried the vision and heart of the Toy Run.

“Ben had a knack of getting complete strangers to work together.

“Now the legacy of Ben’s influence is seeing the Toy Run continue with lots of people doing their bit.

“Ben was very passionate about supporting children and young people, without that passion there is no way the Toy Run would have carried on for as long as it has.

“It is going to be emotional.

“A lot of people they will be coming on the run this year with all the usual passion and desire to support children, but there will be an element of wanting to ride as a mark of respect in memory of Ben and gratitude for the work he put in over 35 years.”

Since its inception almost four decades ago, the community of Reading and its surrounding areas have taken the event to their hearts, with people of all ages lining the streets to witness the mass coming together of motorcycles and their riders.

For Stillman, it all began with wanting to make a difference.

“It was just a simple act of wanting to make a difference at Christmas and look out for vulnerable children”, he said.

“What became pivotal was developing a relationship with Barnardo’s at High Close School very early on and as the event has grown, they have been able to accommodate the logistics of the increasing number of people taking part.

“There was no fancy plan at the beginning, it was just a bunch of mates wanting to do something.

“There’s a lot of logistics involved as we have to make sure the event not only gets the gifts to the places they need to go, but we also need to make sure the event runs safely and efficiently, and that involves liaising with the local councils and the police to ensure road closures are done.

“We have got different people who are involved in different areas of the community that are able to help us out with all those things.

“It is now a well-rehearsed plan after all the years, but it needs everyone to pull together.

“It works because all of the community embrace it.”

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Above: Previous Toy Run

Never far from its Christian roots, Stillman is still involved with religious motorcycle group God’s Squad and conducted the funeral of best friend Ben, but now lives in South Wales.

Despite his role diminishing over time, the author and ordained minister still feels immense satisfaction with the work of the Toy Run.

“The gifts of 1000-2000 people is a colossal number of toys, and more than they can use within the local Barnardo’s network so other groups come and choose toys for the children they’re working with.

“Human nature wants to help, and the Toy Run is just one of many ways that can capture that spirit.

“The satisfaction is because we know it makes a difference.”

You can see this year’s Toy Run on Sunday from approximately 2pm-3.30pm, starting at John Wood PLC to Barnardo’s at High Close School.