Santa takes his grotto online to bring a smile to children's faces in Leigh Park

CORONAVIRUS restrictions could not stop Father Christmas from bringing some festive cheer to children over the weekend as Santa staged his first ‘virtual grotto’.

By Tom Cotterill
Saturday, 12th December 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Saturday, 12th December 2020, 5:08 pm
Virtual Father Christmas with one of his elves and a reindeer, Greywell Shopping Centre, Leigh Park. Picture: Chris Moorhouse      (121220-13)
Virtual Father Christmas with one of his elves and a reindeer, Greywell Shopping Centre, Leigh Park. Picture: Chris Moorhouse (121220-13)

Hundreds of families tuned in on Saturday as the big man went live on Facebook from his secret ‘North Pole’ workshop in Leigh Park.

Sitting in his sleigh and surrounded by presents, the big man spoke to excited children who were eager to find out if they were on this year’s ‘nice list’.

And Mrs Claus also joined the action in a rare video message, reading letters and wish lists from youngsters across the area.

The festive fun was staged by ‘chief elf’ Kim Benham, chairman of the Leigh Park Christmas Grotto team.

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Kim said her team of helpers have been rushing around all year to collect gifts to hand out to children – with about 800 on the waiting list this year.

She said: ‘I’ve been shopping since January and I absolutely love helping with the grotto – I’ve been doing it on and off here for about 15 years.

‘But this year has been completely different with Covid around. We didn’t the kids to miss out this year because they need that bit of magic at Christmas.

‘We have such a great response and so many people have been thanking us. It’s been amazing. And to see those kids’ smiles is totally worth it.’

And for the first time, Santa was dispatched from his Leigh Park HQ, in unit at the Greywell Shopping Centre, to deliver presents to eager children.

Tommy Raistrick, who dressed up as Father Christmas this year, said the first virtual grotto had been a rousing success.

‘It’s exciting, this is a new adventure,’ added Tommy, who works as a lorry driver when he is not helping deliver festive cheer over Christmas. ‘This year has been very difficult with the virus going round. So something like this is really needed.

‘Seeing kids smiling, laughing and believing makes this all worth while.’

The team will be working throughout the next few weeks to deliver presents to children from Gosport, Portsmouth, Havant, Leigh Park and Chichester.

And the festive helpers are still eager to receive letters from children, which will be read out next Saturday during the final virtual grotto with Santa.

To have a letter sent through to Santa, visit the Leigh Park Christmas Grotto 2020 group on Facebook.

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