THE organisers of a popular charity event are celebrating after raising an eye-watering £1 million for Cancer Research UK.

The incredible target was hit at Clacton's Relay for Life.

Events take place across the world, celebrating the power of community fundraising in the fight against cancer.

Teams fundraise for lifesaving cancer research and then unite at a weekend-long festival to honour those affected by the disease.

The event is normally focused around a 24-hour relay, where team members take it in turns to walk around a track.

Survivors of cancer are the special guests and each event begins with their lap of honour.

This year's events had to take place virtually, because of the coronavirus pandemic, but still proved a runaway success, with £1m now having been raised since the first Clacton relay in 2010.

Event chair Jane Smith, who heads a dedicated team of cancer survivors and volunteers and won a Pride of Essex award for her fundraising efforts last year, said: "We're completely overwhelmed and extremely proud to have reached £1 million.

"Who would have thought it possible?

"As an event, we stand tall and proud of what's been achieved since our event was formed.

"We're proud of the contribution we've made to enable Cancer Research UK to continue its vital research in the fight against cancer. And we're proud of the committee, teams, survivors and community who made it happen.

"For our little seaside town to achieve something so big is just incredible and we put that success down to everyone working together to support the fundraising activities.

"Many people often say to me that every ship needs a captain to make it happen.

"I reply that a captain wouldn't be able to do anything without a crew and we have a wonderful crew - all volunteers, many of whom also hold down full-time jobs.

"An awful lot of hard work goes into organising this event and I've usually started planning the following year's event in May, before the current year has even taken place."

A candle of hope ceremony is a poignant part of Relay For Life.

As darkness falls, dedicated candles are lit to honour every life touched by cancer.

Everyone is invited to dedicate a candle to someone no longer alive, a friend or family member living with cancer or a loved one who has survived.

Everyone then joins together for a moment of remembrance, reflection and celebration.

Mrs Smith, who lives in Little Clacton, has her own personal reasons for getting involved.

"I've been involved since the very first event but as a team captain," said the 51-year-old.

"I then joined the committee as survivor chair and became event chair seven years ago.

"I always supported Cancer Research UK after my nan was diagnosed with cancer in 1997. Sadly, we lost her in 2001.

"My mum was then diagnosed a couple of years later and we lost her in 2006.

"Had they both been diagnosed in recent years they would both have had a much higher chance of survival, especially with the new way esophageal cancer is diagnosed.

"We hope the event continues to grow and keep raising important funds for research, in the hope that one day cancer treatments will be kinder.

"Early diagnosis is key so training and equipment for doctors is so important in terms of helping them make a diagnosis from the surgery.

"For me, it's just a brilliant event and something I'm so happy and proud to be part of.

"It's a family event and doesn't discriminate against age, ability or disability. Anyone can take part.

"We have teams made of family members ranging in age from one to 80.

"There's always something for people to see, whether it's the stalls surrounding the track, watching the free entertainment, dance acts, theatre groups or watching the relay teams walk the track in various whacky outfits and fancy dress."

For obvious reasons, this year's event had a very different feel.

It wasn't possible to hold a proper mass relay and, instead, participants were invited to walk their own leg, as a way of raising money.

"We were devastated when this year's event had to be cancelled but it was completely the right decision," added Mrs Smith, who has three daughters and three grandchildren.

"I was determined we'd still reach our target, though - not only because it was a personal challenge but because the charity sector has been devastated by the covid crisis, especially cancer services and research.

"It was extremely important for us to ensure funds for research continue being raised because it matters now more than ever.

"We had to become more inventive by finding ways to fundraise in a safe manner.

"Lots of fundraising was done online, with teams holding virtual raffles, competitions and quizzes.

"Some team members had a clear-out during lockdown, asking for donations for items they no longer required.

"We set a £22 challenge for team members to raise just £22 by finding loose change around the house, car handbags and down the side of the sofa.

"Team meetings were done online and, of course, we had our virtual event at the weekend.

"The committee members that were involved have learnt an awful lot and we hope to return even bigger and better next year, hopefully able to get back to some kind of normality in terms of our special weekend."