Rescuer keeps the River Rother Raft Race afloat

The River Rother raft race is afloat again after a Lodsworth businessman stepped in to save it.

Anthony Weller, who took part in what was declared to be the last race last year, has decided it would be 'crazy' to let it die.

Now he has taken over the organisation of the charity event from Robin Shapland and Ron Dudman and told the Observer: "The race is back on for Sunday, August 30 this year. Please tell everyone not to take their rafts to the tip!"

Mr Shapland and Mr Dudman announced the demise of the raft race in December, exasperated by an increasing welter of health and safety regulations. The 27th race, last August, had been the last, they declared.

It raised a spectacular 13,500 for charitable causes on top of the tens of thousands the event has brought in since it was

first held.

Mr Weller said he went to talk to Mr Shapland and Mr Dudman about the difficulties they had faced.

"I took part in the raft race for the first time last year with a group of friends, and it was fantastic.

"When the announcement that it was finished was made, I thought 'this is crazy'. It is a good activity which raises a large amount of money for charity and has a history going back 27 years.

"If it went, it would never be resurrected, so I got involved."

Mr Weller (43) and his wife Reba have lived in Lodsworth for ten years. They have two children aged 11 and nine and Mrs Weller is chairman of Lodsworth Parish Council.

Her husband runs his own business specialising in the design of wireless systems and said he was fully aware of health and safety requirements which had proved so daunting for his raft race predecessors.

"I know full well about risk assessments and method statements. The health and safety issues that threatened last year's race have been resolved.

"The event is held on private land. It is insured. Most of the furore and rigmarole last year was out of proportion and was not binding, in effect.

"I think we have achieved a happy medium between the kneejerk reaction last year and what we need to do to keep people safe and run the event," Mr Weller said.

He has already secured the permission of the Cowdray Estate for the 2009 race. The river route runs through estate land from the start at Cowdray Ruins to the finish at Lods bridge, Selham.

Mr Shapland and Mr Dudman have also offered to be on hand with advice if needed.

But Mr Weller is not sure at this stage whether the sponsors of the past 12 years, Selham timber merchants WL West and Sons, will still want to be involved.

"The next step is to find out whether they still want to be the major sponsor. If not, clearly we have to look at finding another sponsor."

But the essential message was that the race would happen this year after all.

"We want to ensure we get a good number of people entering rafts and consequently raise money for local charities," Mr Weller said.

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