TV star Arthur Bostrom and his fellow panto stars teamed up with Santa at a Lichfield shopping centre to raise money and lots of Christmas gifts for St Giles Hospice.
The cast of Cinderella, which is being performed at Lichfield Garrick Theatre, were in full costume to meet Santa and help him open his grotto at the city’s Three Spires Shopping Centre.
The grotto is free but shoppers are encouraged to make a voluntary donation with every penny going to support the work of St Giles Hospice.
In addition customers and visitors can leave a gift at the Grotto for children receiving care at St Giles Hospice.
Three Spires Shopping Centre Manager Lisa Prokopiou said there was a great family atmosphere for the opening of Santa’s Christmas Grotto.
She said: “It really has been a wonderful day and so busy. Children have really enjoyed it and I think for many this really was the start of the countdown to the big day.
“We are so pleased with the grotto it is stunningly decorated and really has that special Christmas feel. We wanted to make it free so everyone who wanted to bring their child along to see Santa could.
“However, we also want to support the amazing work that goes on every day both at the hospice itself and around the area by the St Giles team. We know just how much St Giles Hospice means to so many people in and around Lichfield.
“So we decided, rather than charge for the grotto experience, we would allow customers and visitors to make a voluntary donation to the hospice if they felt they were able to.”
She added: “We are also inviting people to drop off Christmas gifts, which can be wrapped with a label indicting whether the gift is intended for a girl and boy and the approximate age the of the intended recipient.
“Lots of Three Spire businesses have indicated they will be donating presents and Ryman Stationary has already done so. I was also pleased the cast of Cinderella, who came along to support the opening if Santa’s Grotto, have also left gifts at the tree.”
First in the queue to see Santa as his grotto opened was three-year-old Maxwell Butler who was with his mum Maria Orellana.
Maria of Longdon, near Lichfield, who is a Walsall community area midwife, says seeing Santa was definitely worth the wait.
She said: “Maxwell is getting really excited about Christmas. He loves Sponge Bob Square Pants and Spiderman so I’m looking for presents on those themes. The Grotto is fantastic, they have done such a good job and I love the idea of supporting St Giles Hospice rather than just paying to see Santa. It’s a brilliant idea and one I definitely support.
“I really like Santa’s big boots and costume. The whole experience really does make you feel Christmassy and excited.”
Maria, who is currently on maternity leave as she is expecting her second child next month, added: “My partner James and I will be having our own, slightly belated little Christmas gift, we know it’s another boy and we have already decided to call him James.”
The Willows Primary School, Lichfield, lunchtime supervisor Sandra Wheeler took her two children, Billy, 10, and Mary, nine, along to the opening of Santa’s grotto.
Sandra said: “There has been all sorts going on and the children have had a great time. The Grotto is amazing and it’s really good they are supporting St Giles.
“It certainly made us feel Christmassy and the fact the panto characters were in the shopping centre really added a bit of fun.
“I’m not sure what Billy and Mary asked Santa for but I do know Billy is hoping for some computer games while Mary is now really into fashion and clothes.”
Actor and singer Charlie Kendall, of Bromley, London, who plays the roles of Pierre and Gaston in Cinderella at the Lichfield Garrick Theatre joined in the fun with the rest of the panto cast as they helped Santa open his Grotto.
Charlie, 23, who studied at Bird College Sidcup where he received a diploma in musical theatre, says the whole cast had enjoyed a fantastic time.
He said: “Everyone is buzzing and we received an amazing reaction. It’s been fun helping Santa open his grotto and there has been some very excited children. It’s also been great for the cast to let people know about the panto.
“I’m really enjoying it in Lichfield. It’s so much calmer than London and I can’t believe how friendly and nice everyone is.”
St Giles Hospice Community Fundraiser Aaron Coleman said: “We would like to thank staff and shoppers at Three Spires for supporting us at this time of year. Every child that visits the grotto will be helping St Giles Hospice deliver high-quality care to local people living with cancer and other serious illnesses.
“We are also grateful to shoppers who bring along a gift; each one will help to brighten up the Christmas of a child currently receiving our care.”
Santa’s Grotto is open at the Three Spires Shopping Centre Lichfield between 11am-3pm on Saturday, December 6, 13 and 20.
For more information about Three Spires Shopping Centre visit www.threespireslichfield.com
For more information about St Giles Hospice visit www.stgileshospice.com
And for more information about Cinderella at Lichfield Garrick Theatre and for tickets, which are £21.50 for adults and £12.50 for children, visit www.garrickpanto.co.uk or call the box office on 01543 412 121.