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Our Santa Grotto Bus was a roaring success – here’s how it went…

Updated: Jan 11

Hi Sunshine News Readers,

What. A. Week! After months of anticipation, planning and commitment to making this year’s Santa Grotto Bus bigger and better than it’s ever been, I think it’s safe to say it was a roaring success! We smiled, we laughed, we cried, we danced and we sang until our voices went; we went through every emotion but it was so worth it for the memories we were able to make and cherish.

The week began on Sunday, December 10 where myself, Rachel (or as she is now known, ‘Martha Christmas’) and Amanda (our new Fundraising & Events Co-ordinator who comes from an interior design background which, I must say, came in very handy!) headed to Stagecoach’s Slatyford depot to meet Shaun Anderson and his wife, Emma. They showed us the bus which had just been cleaned; a blank canvas and a strict timeframe of two hours to completely ‘Christmasify’ it… the challenge was on! Shaun and Emma filled the back of the bus with the hundreds of boxes of sweets and gifts that they had laboured over, hand wrapping and putting together.

Meanwhile, Team Sunshine battled fairy lights, curtains, and tinsel until we had candy canes coming out our ears and we were covered head to toe in glitter and snow spray. But the final result was fabulous; a magical grotto and a sensory wonderland.

The bus was ready to be taken on the road and we closed the doors to a busy week ahead. On Monday, December 11, we paid a very special visit to the Great North Children’s Hospital at the RVI, where children and outpatients from the children’s ward were able to visit Santa, video call him from their rooms, and for many, was the first or only festive activity they would be able to take part in this year.

Words can’t describe how much it meant to see these children’s faces light up when they entered the bus and got to add their name to Santa’s Nice List and tell him what they wanted for Christmas. It truly gave us a lot of perspective, and we were inspired by the stories we heard and the incredible kids we met. We’d like to thank Cheryl Gascoigne, Julia Anderson and all the staff and families we spoke to at the RVI for letting us bring a little joy to their day.

After an emotional start to the week, Tuesday, December 12 saw us visit Kingston Park Tesco, where we were met by Newcastle Extra Community Champion, Karen Colley, who was a huge help in arranging our visit. We also had a special guest appearance from Rebecca, Tom, Callum, Phil, and Jamie at the Newcastle Falcons, who came along to learn more about the charity, and of course, add their name to Santa’s Nice List! We look forward to working more with the Newcastle Falcons next year, and we already have some very exciting plans for the beginning of 2024… watch this space!

On Wednesday, December 13, we took the bus to a local school in West Newcastle: Hadrian School, who we have supported for years with equipment but also with community events like this. This visit always brings us so much joy and it’s always a pleasure to pay our friends at the school a visit.

The team at Stagecoach had wrapped up individual gifts for each of the children, with selection boxes meeting all dietary requirements, and colouring books for kids who can’t eat chocolate. The level of thought the Stagecoach team put into their gifts never go unmissed, and they were very well received! The time spent there consisted of lots of singing, dancing, shaking jingle bells and just one incident involving Santa’s beard… but it was a joy for all of us and has to be up there with one of our favourite days of the year.

After our community visits, and once we’d given the bus a little fix-up, we were ready to begin our four day stint on Northumberland Street! Thursday, December 14 gave us a gauge of how busy we’d be over the few days we were there, and we’d like to thank the team at NE1 who provided the space – it was the perfect location as we were based next to TK Maxx, which meant we could draw in crowds from both Haymarket direction, from people visiting the Fenwicks window, and from Christmas shoppers leaving/entering Eldon Square and heading to/from the Christmas markets. We had visits from Yvonne at Radio Tyneside, as well as Owen and Craig from The Chronicle, who captured some fantastic footage and a live video on socials.

Friday, December 15 not only marked a busy day on the Santa Bus, but it also heralded our annual Christmas Jumper Day! We saw some fantastic festive knits from individuals and organisations such as Tier One Capital, Mincoffs Solicitors and Cruddas Park Surgery. We were also treated to a Wagamamas lunch by the lovely team at Intu – all in all, a very successful day!

Then came the weekend… Saturday, December 16 was the busiest we’ve seen the Santa Bus in Sunshine Fund history, with queues wrapped all the way round all day. The combination of it being a prime Christmas shopping day, a home match day and generally a Saturday in toon meant we were non-stop all day!

We were joined by Mr & Mrs B and their son, Connor, who provided spectacular entertainment during the day as they donned exact replica outfits from the film Elf! We supported the family by funding a trike for Connor back in 2017, and we were delighted to have them join us to donate their time and skills as they spread Christmas cheer by singing loud for all to hear…

Sunday, December 17 came round in a blink of an eye and we said an emotional goodbye to the Santa Bus (until 2024!). We ended the week on a high as we were joined by the incredible team from 99th Garrison, whose Star Wars cosplay has helped us massively in collecting donations at numerous events.

The team came in full force (pardon the pun) and even brought a surprise guest of a festive droid who’s Mrs Claus costume put our outfits to shame! The team were amazing and raised £430.90 alone, not including any collections taken by the bus!

And just like that, our week of the Santa Grotto Bus is over until next year. We want to thank everyone who came to see Santa, who took photos and shared our bus, and who donated any amount of money – the Stagecoach team are keeping the totals a close-guarded secret until the new year as they continue to collect money on their bus routes until New Year’s Eve!

All proceeds are going to go towards improving the lives of local babies, children and young adults living with complex needs in our region, when demand for specialist and adapted equipment is at an all-time high. While we’re on the subject of Stagecoach, we couldn’t write this without sending a huge, heartfelt thank you to Shaun, Santa, Whizzbang and everyone else involved at the Slatyford depot.

They never take anywhere near enough credit for how much they put in to this event and we honestly couldn’t do it without them. They spend just as much time and resource working on our Christmas campaigns as we do and we’re so grateful for their continued support not just in December, but throughout the entire year as well.

We also want to thank the wonderful volunteers who have supported us over the last week; we’ve had help from so many loyal individuals and organisations who, without their helping hands, our Santa Bus wouldn’t be the success it is. Thank you to Engie, Irwin Mitchell, NHSBSA, Accenture and Softcat for organising volunteer support, and to individuals such as Patsy Heslop, Laura Thompson, Lauren and Kerry Scobie, Kamika Manzano, Rachna Bhalla and David Bowman for donating their time to help us – it truly is appreciated.

We’ll have one more column before the end of the year where we’ll be rounding up 2023 and looking forward to 2024. Until then, from all of us at Team Sunshine, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Thanks for reading,

Sophie X



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