CHRISTMAS shopping was given a new twist when a battalion of toy soldiers went on parade at Stretford Mall.
Colourful characters led children, and some adults, on a march around the shopping centre, as families joined in a mission to find Santa Claus in his ‘magic castle’.
The Toy Soldiers Training session heralded the official launch of Santa’s Grotto at Stretford Mall, which this year is housed in a giant castle inside the mall.
The parade was led by Captain Christmas, with Sergeant Sparkle, Holly Wood, and Ivy Tree. Shoppers were also treated to music from The Sugar Plums.
The event also marked the start of a colourful programme of activities at Stretford Mall in the run up to Christmas, including craft sessions, music and children’s entertainers.
Stretford mum Siobahan Livesey who was at the parade on Saturday with her six year old son, Gabriel, said the event brightened up the entire weekend for her family.
“It’s been fantastic, and what a great surprise for Gabriel,” said Siobhan, 29, of Jackson Street, Stretford.
“He just couldn’t wait to join in all the singing and dancing. He’s a bit of a natural performer himself,” she added.
Siobhan, who works in Asda, added: “It’s been a really nice day for us, and there’s a great community spirit here in the mall.”
Gabriel, a pupil of St Ann’s School, Stretford, was one of scores of children delighted to join in the adventure to help the toy soldiers and fairy princess find Father Christmas.
Siobhan regularly shops at the mall with Gabriel’s dad, Richard Nelligan. She said: “Normally people are just happy to browse around, getting on with their shopping, but today the atmosphere is completely different.
“All the children have been really excited and even the adults have joined in, waving and dancing.”
Stretford Mall centre manager Gareth Wilkins said the run up to Christmas is always a fun time for retailers and customers.
He said: “It is one of our busiest times of the year.
“Stretford has always had a real sense of community about it and we consider the mall to be one of the hubs of that community so we like to lay on something really special at this time of year.
“It’s partly to celebrate the coming festivities but also as a thank you to all the loyal customers and their families who have supported us throughout the year.
“The performers today have been fantastic, with their colourful Toy Soldier and fairytale character costumes.
“They’ve created a real buzz which has lifted the spirits of everyone here.”
Also there were fellow St Ann’s pupils Amy Yates, seven and her sister Chloe, three.
Their mum, Lisa Yates, of Gorse Hill, Stretford, said they came along specially after hearing about the event through the local Rainbows organisation of which Amy is a member.
She said: “It has been so good. I can’t tell you how much the kids have enjoyed themselves.
“Chloe has just started nursery and this is the first year that she has really understood about Father Christmas and the festive celebrations.
“She was so excited to see Santa, and Amy was over the moon about getting to join in the parade.”
Amy who wants a bike for Christmas and Chloe, who is hoping for a game and a doll, were looking forward to telling their dad, Trafford Park worker, David Yates, all about their day.
Lisa, who works at Christie Hospital, Withington, said: “He had to work today so he couldn’t come along here with us but we’ve taken lots of photographs to show him.
“The girls can’t wait. It’s a really good idea to have events like this at the shopping centre as it makes it so much more lively and full of community spirit. We’ve loved it.”
For information about Stretford Mall go to www.stretfordmall.com follow @StretfordMall on Twitter or visit the centre’s Facebook page.