News News Santa swaps sleigh for a double decker in annual festive fundraiser Santa Claus is coming to town – by bus - as drivers from Stagecoach North East’s Walkergate and Slatyford depots raise cash for four different children’s charities this Christmas. Commuters will be doing a double-take as they board their usual buses around Newcastle and North Tyneside from now until Christmas Eve when they realise their driver has been replaced by the twinkly-eyed man in the big red suit. Children North East, Tiny Lives Trust, the Chronicle Sunshine Fund and Blood Bikes will all benefit from a cash boost as the fundraising Father (and Mother) Christmases encourage passengers to donate their small change over the festive season. Last year’s Santa drive, which takes in depots from Tyneside down to Teesside, raised an amazing £22,000 for local charities across the region - £14,000 of that came from Walkergate and Slatyford staff and a contribution from Stagecoach North East. Dave Kenney, 63, is one of 12 Santas who’ll be clocking on for duty at Stagecoach North East’s Walkergate depot on Shields Road, Newcastle. And he can’t wait to see his passengers’ faces as they board his bus. “They just love it, especially the children,” said Dave, who has taken part in the festive fundraiser for the last four years. The grandad of two has two separate Santa suits, both of them run up by his wife, Sandra, on her sewing machine. “As well as the traditional red one, I’ve got a Magpies Santa suit in black and white with a big number 9 on the back,” he said. Mother Christmas, Chloe Turnbull, has a fetching hooded Santa suit. “I love seeing the kids’ reaction and it’s for such good causes,” she said. As well as Mr and Mrs Christmas, there’s also a team of elves and even the Grinch – Dave Charlton who drives the Number 38 bus out of Slatyford. Fundraising officer for Children North East, Ruth Dodds, thanked the big-hearted drivers for choosing the charity as one of its beneficiaries again. “Christmas is all about children and Children North East helps children, young people and their families when a little help makes a big difference. From providing counselling for young victims of crime to supporting families in crisis, we will ensure that every penny raised by our super Santas helps improve the lives of North East children.” David Wakefield, Operations Manager at Stagecoach North East’s Walkergate depot, said: “This has become a popular feature on our buses over the years and the drivers and staff really enjoy spreading some seasonal cheer for our customers. We are always happy to support the fundraising activity of our team and hope that with the help of our passengers we can raise some much-needed funds for Children North East, Blood Bikes, Tiny Lives and the Chronicle’s Sunshine Fund.” The campaign led to Stagecoach North East receiving a Bronze Award in the Bus and the Community category earlier this year.