OVER the past 12 months you have probably seen firefighters on rowing machines, dressed up in weird and wonderful costumes raising money for a very special cause.
For the past eight years the 60 firefighters from Cosham Fire Station have been going all-out to raise money to put on a spectacular Christmas party for seriously ill children.
Stu Vince, Jess Groom and Buzz Burrans began by holding a party for children at St Mary’s Hospital, Portsmouth, where the paediatric ward used to be.
When it moved to Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham, they thought it would make a nice change for the children to spend the day at the fire station instead of the all-too-familiar hospital.
And on Sunday it was transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with a grotto, a petting zoo with lizards, meerkats and hedgehogs, a magician and steel drummers.
Months of hard work go into the event, which costs £4,000 to put on.
Mr Groom said: ‘A lot of that goes on the presents. We spend between £60 and £70 on each child and we ask the children what they want.
‘We want to make it as special as possible for them.’
There were 35 children at the party on Sunday. One of them was five-year-old Michael Holton who was with his parents Clive and Sue.
Michael was born with a range of serious conditions including renal failure.
At just a few days old he had a stroke which caused cerebral palsy. He has developmental problems and epilepsy.
This will be only the second Christmas he has spent at home. Mum Sue, from Waterlooville, said: ‘On paper, Michael should not be walking or talking, but he is. He is happy from the moment he wakes until the moment he sleeps. It is absolutely lovely to be invited here today with him.’
Oscar Growns, 11, was invited to the party with his mum Claire.
He was taken ill over the summer and spent several weeks in QA. He has finally been signed off by his doctors so the party was a great way to celebrate.
Oscar said: ‘It was good. I liked the hedgehogs in the petting zoo the best.’
Mum Claire, 41, from Hayling Island, said: ‘This is a lovely way to start Christmas. It’s a nice thing to do.
‘We are looking forward to Christmas Day now after the summer. The medical staff were fantastic. We could not have asked for more.’
Mr Vince, who has now moved to St Mary’s station in Southampton said: ‘It was a fantastic day. We spend all year fundraising but it’s worth it to see the look on the children’s faces.’
Local businesses also donate to help the party go off with a bang, including Card Factory which supplies all the wrapping paper.
Bruce Gordon is the station commander at Cosham. He knows only too well the hard work his firefighters put into the party each year. ‘It is just fantastic,’ he said: ‘For me, there are many things that make it so good.
‘There’s the delight on the children’s faces when they see Father Christmas come down in the aerial ladder after being rescued by the firemen.
‘They are all so excited.
‘Also, it’s the sheer selfless effort of everyone at the station.
‘They transform it into a winter wonderland for the children.
‘And it’s so nice to see a smile on the parents’ faces too. They suffer just as much emotionally because they have to watch their children suffer physically.
‘It’s the station’s way of giving something back.’
To make a donation to next year’s party pop into the station.