A SHOPPING centre’s most popular visitor received a rapturous welcome when he arrived ahead of his busiest time of the year.
Santa Claus made his eagerly-awaited arrival at Middleton Grange, in Hartlepool, to take up residence inside his grotto situated in the shopping centre’s main square.
Crowds gathered yesterday morning, gaining vantage points from the stairs and balconies overlooking the square where a host of activities took place.
Radio Hartlepool and dancers from the Val Armstrong School of Dance, Ruff Diamond, Diamond All-Stars and Lil Diamondz entertained the crowds.
Santa’s sleigh was paraded through the centre where he was greeted by hundreds of excited children.
Accompanying him on his sleigh was 10-year-old Leah Donaldson, from Springwell School, and dad Paul, while members of the Hartlepool Round Table handed out sweets and presents with the help of Santa’s elves.
He was escorted by the Bishop Auckland Town Pipes and Drums band just after 11am.
After handing out sweets to youngsters and their families, Santa welcomed children into his grotto and quickly built up a pile of Christmas lists.
He told the Mail: “I love coming to Hartlepool.
“I’ve been told the children have been very good this year and they have all told me what they want.
“I’ll be staying in Middleton Grange for the next few weeks and I hope to meet lots of children before I have to go away on Christmas Eve to deliver all the presents.”
Mark Rycraft, Middleton Grange manager and Round Table member, said: “We are really pleased with the turn-out.
“We are getting a lot of positive comments from customers regarding the grotto and decorations.
“It really set Christmas off on a good note.”
From today, the grotto is open from 10.30am to 5.30pm Monday to Saturday and 10am to 4.30pm on Sundays until December 22.
The Sunday opening times continue until Christmas with his last day in the grotto being Christmas Eve, Monday, December 24, from 10.30am to 5.30pm.
The cost of visiting Santa is £4 for a visit and a photograph or present, and £6 for a visit, photograph and present.