SANTA’S grotto was officially launched at Rochdale Exchange, by the shopping centre’s Director of Fun, nine-year-old Sam Doherty.
Families visiting the grotto will help raise funds for the Rochdale Moorland Children’s Home, which provides activity breaks for children from difficult backgrounds.
Meanwood primary school pupil Sam cut the ribbon to officially welcome Father Christmas to his temporary home for 2015.
Sam took the opportunity to hand over his own Christmas wish list.
He said: “Getting to officially open Santa’s grotto was amazing.
“I wrote my list out specially and gave it to him but I can’t tell you what’s on it because that has to stay secret.
“Only Father Christmas, and my mum, get to know that.”
Sam has performed various tasks since being appointed to his position by the Rochdale Exchange team this summer.
He has acted as consultant to centre managers on the annual events programme, and has even brought his theatre group Footlights to the shopping centre, to perform a pirate-themed flashmob, as part of the Rochdale Festival of Literature and Ideas.
But meeting Santa Claus has been the highlight of the year so far for Sam, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome aged six, said his mum Jayne Doherty.
“I think Christmas is the highlight of the year for all children, but Sam has been looking forward to this for weeks.
“It is beautifully done – all really magical for the kids and it looks brilliant.
“There’s also a machine that you drop coins in and it makes all these little puppets dance which is lovely.”
Jayne, aged 45, has five children including Samuel, her youngest, and recently qualified as a social worker at Salford University.
She said: “It’s lovely that it’s all raising money for the children’s home too. As a social worker I know only too well how hard it can be for some children.”
One family keen to be among the first to visit Santa were the Catons from Littleborough whose three-year-old triplets Violet, Elizabeth and Sofia were over the moon to see the man himself.
Mum Cathy said: “They have got smiles from ear to ear. I was a bit worried that they’d be nervous about seeing him but they weren’t at all.
“They all bought their elf toys down to show him and the whole set up is absolutely fantastic. They’re loving it.”
Another excited youngster raring to see Father Christmas was Isabelle Alattar who came down to the Exchange specially with mum Beate who said: “She’s been so excited to see him, and been waiting all morning.
“She really loved it and has asked him for a dancing Cinderella. It was just magical and she was mesmerised by all the twinkling trees.”
Also in attendance at the grotto launch on Saturday was Becky Allet, Matron at the Rochdale Moorland Children’s Home which will receive all the money raised from the grotto.
Becky said: “I want to say a big thank you to everyone at Rochdale Exchange for their kind support and for choosing the Moorland Home as their nominated charity.
“I also want to thank every member of the public who shows their support by coming to the grotto between now and Christmas.
“The money raised will enable us to take children on outings and more resources for activities at the home too.”
Lorenzo O’Reilly, centre manager at Rochdale Exchange who helped paint the lounge at the Moorland home earlier this year, said: “We are committed to helping the Rochdale Children’s Moorland Home as much as we can this year and I hope the Christmas grotto will raise a good amount for us to donate to them.
“At a cost of just £4 per child, which includes a gift from Father Christmas, a visit to this winter wonderland will be a treat for our younger visitors as well as an ideal festive opportunity to help support a vital local facility.”
The Rochdale Children’s Moorland Home, which provides respite and holidays for youngsters from tough backgrounds.
It has been operating for more than 120 years, since its location, Nab Farm in Wardle, was donated and it now provides short breaks in a healthy environment for up to 300 disadvantaged children each year.
The centre has large outdoor play areas, lounge, kitchen, dining room, bedrooms and a new play barn. The home gives children who have often had a tough start in life a chance to relax, enjoy the outdoors and build their self-confidence with activities, challenges, outings and fun events.
For more information about Rochdale Exchange go to www.rochdaleexchange.co.uk or go to the centre’s Facebook page or Twitter account @rochdaleexch
To find out more about the Rochdale Moorland Children’s Home visit: www.rochdalechildrensmoorlandhome.org