An estimated 14,000 people turned-out to watch the very first ‘Barrow BID Super Soapbox Challenge’ at the weekend – with a date already set for next year’s event.
Wacky vehicles designed and built by 19 teams from across the North West sped through Barrow’s town centre on Saturday, from the top of a giant, purpose-built ramp on Dalton Road near the top of Portland Walk, down to the finish line at Abbey Road.
Supported by the Barrow Business Improvement District, the event was sponsored by BAE Systems and welcomed special guest Michael ‘Eddie’ Edwards (pictured above), better known as ‘Eddie the Eagle’ – who competed in the ski-jump at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary for Team GB.
After swapping his skis for a soapbox, Eddie was the first down the ramp and set a lightning quick time of 37 seconds in his Furness College built soapbox cart, named ‘The Eagle has Landed’.
Following four runs, Team Ørsted were crowned the first Barrow Super Soapbox Champions with a super-quick time in the final run-off and were followed by Team Oxley in second and Team Furness College who finished third.
There were also prizes for the most innovative cart which went to Lancaster & Morecambe College, best jokers which went to the Blackburn based team from CM Oxendale, while the most entertaining team was declared as Little Tony’s Tyres. The best team costumes were chosen by John Woodcock MP and his daughters, declaring the local team from Gas Water Heating as their winners for their Super Mario theme.
The Super Soapbox Challenge Company Ltd was approached by the Barrow Business Improvement District as part of their plans to promote the town as a sub-regional service centre and shopping destination offering distinctive choice of shops, festivals and events, as well as some of the best entertainment, leisure and recreation in Cumbria.
Colin Garnett, Barrow BID Manager says, “People came out in huge numbers to support the event and we have also attracted visitors to the town from all over the North West. We’ve heard that trains from the West Coast were full and BID members spoke to individuals and groups from as far as Bolton and Blackburn.”
Soapbox racing as a regional town and city centre event began in York in 2016 when a city traders’ association took steps to reverse a downward trend which saw a rise in the number of empty retail units and poor sales. Independent research found that more than 16,000 people attended the 2017 event, rising to more than 20,000 the following year, who spent a total of £1.2m on the day.
Colin continues, “After visiting the Micklegate Soapbox Race in York, I knew the event’s potential for attracting crowds, but the popularity of our very first soapbox event has surpassed my expectations. Barrow BID has been set up to regenerate Barrow’s town centre, re-engaging with local people and increasing footfall, to help local town centre businesses survive and thrive. It is the town centre businesses who pay an annual levy to finance the BID so we can put on high-end events and complete projects and initiatives which will provide the levy paying businesses with return on investment.
“This year we ran the event on a Saturday, so that all town centre businesses could be part of the event and seize the opportunity to boost sales or market their business to the influx of people the event brought to the town, however, we are under no illusions that an event of this magnitude will be positive for every business. Our board members come from various sectors of the town centre and we understand that some retail businesses and service sector businesses will not benefit from the event. This is the reason we have decided to change the date of the 2020 Barrow Super Soapbox Challenge event to Spring Bank Holiday Sunday on Sunday 24th May 2020.
“We believe that this date will provide businesses with an opportunity to open on a Sunday if they feel the event is beneficial to them and gain an extra day of trading or they can choose to stay closed and join in the fun. The added bonus of hosting the event on a Bank Holiday weekend is that we can attract visitors to come and stay in the town for longer and make a weekend of it.”
Stuart Gladstone, Event Manager, added. “From the size of the crowds and the buzz on social media, we would expect entries to reach 40 next year and we will be freezing the entry fees at £200 for corporate teams and £100 for charities, individuals and BID levy paying businesses. We will contact all of this year’s participants and give them first refusal on entering next year before we open up entries to everyone from August. With the new end of May date in 2020, you now only have 11 months to build the perfect Soapbox and take Ørsted’s crown.”