CHRISTMAS came early for a former mining village when a “winter wonderland” set up home at a community centre.
Around 800 people are thought to have flocked to Blackhall Community Centre over the weekend to enjoy a feast of festive fun, with the highlight being a 40ft outdoor ice rink.
TV agony aunt Denise Robertson and local singer Emma Smith kicked off the celebrations on Saturday and another highlight was Santa’s grotto.
The event was brought to Blackhall following a £4,500 fundraising drive by village chimney sweep Bob Waite, whose dream was for the weekend to drum up some real festive community spirit.
The proud 60-year-old said last night, after a grand finale provided by Trimdon Concert Brass Band: “It’s been absolutely awesome – everything I imagined and more.
“It was exactly like a Christmas wonderland – we brought the Christmas spirit to Blackhall and Blackhall’s winter wonderland dream came true.”
Bob, who lives in the village’s Arnold Avenue with wife Denise, said his fundraising efforts to make the event possible, including a 60-mile bike ride along the length of the River Wear with daughter Gayle, 34, and nephew David Boyd, organising a charity night at Blackhall Navy Club and collecting donations from generous villagers and organisations, had been well-worth the outcome.
Bob, who is also dad to Tracey Coverdale, 35, and a grandfather-of-three, admitted having to “crawl off” the ice rink.
He added: “It was lovely to have Denise Robertson and the singer Emma here to launch it and I’d like to thank all the helpers and the centre manager Alison Paterson and also big thanks to my wife Denise.”
Bob’s brother-in-law, David Williams, helped him organise the event and also drove the support vehicle when Bob, Gayle and David tackled the charity bike ride.
He said: “It’s the best thing we’ve ever done. “I don’t think a lot of the kids had seen this before and they really enjoyed the ice rink.”
Other highlights of the weekend included performances by Blackhall Youth Band, a Strictly Dance competition, magician, puppet show, face-painting, storyteller, balloon race, carol-singing, tombola, raffle, marshmallow-roasting, bouncy castle, games, stalls, car boot stands and tree-planting.