Acorns Hospice children meet Santa on magical Christmas flight
Youngsters from Acorns Children's Hospices saw their Christmas spirit soar as they boarded a special flight.
Children from the Black Country and beyond took to Birmingham Airport for an event which aimed to spread the festive cheer.
They and their families were taken up into the air on a Flybe plane for an hour-long journey which saw them travel to Aberdovey on the Welsh coast before returning to Birmingham.
And the youngsters were greeted by a special visitor halfway through the "magical" journey, with Santa Claus himself swinging by to deliver teddy bears.
It was organised by Birmingham Airport and Flybe, who came together to back the hospice through the specially chartered journey.
Jonathon Waring and Rachel O'Donnel, from Walsall, brought seven-year-old Charlie, who has a rare chromosome disorder, and four-year-old Isobel for the flight.
Jonathon said: "It's just a fantastic experience to be involved and it lets us make memories.
"I had a phone call and they asked us to do this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"Both of them love Santa and they haven't flown before.
"We have 16 nights a year at Acorns and occasionally he has extra stays but we visit more than that with all the fundraising events.
"Acorns is more like a family to us."
The youngsters were given festive Santa hats as they arrived at the airport and a gift bag as they were leaving.
Sonya Butterfield, from Bearwood, took her nine-year-old daughter, who has dravet syndrome and was dressed as Elsa for the flight.
Ms Butterfield said: "She couldn't have been more excited for it – she said she was going 'stir crazy' waiting for it.
"She's missed some Christmas events and to come here to a safe environment, you know there's nurses here and other families, it's wonderful.
"They've really thought of everything. We're really grateful to be here– Acorns is like a home for us."
Rose Gray took three-year-old Alfie, who has issues with his heart, on the plane – only for the youngster to peacefully fall asleep just before it took flight.
The 30-year-old, from Castle Bromwich, said: "He's done a lot of walking today and he gets a bit tired because of his condition.
"But it's been amazing. It's an opportunity most people don't get.
"We've been in and out of hospital since he was six months old and we've had outreach teams come out to the house.
"It's the first time we've been on a flight with him.
"He's always in and out of hospital and he's going in again for his 15th surgery next week, so we've spent our Christmases in hospital and the chances are we will be again – but fingers crossed we're not.
"I want to thank everyone who put this together. It's amazing and we would never get to do anything like this normally."
Chris Hope, chief operations officer for FlyBe, said it was a "pleasure" to be involved.
He said: "It's really about supporting our partners – Birmingham Airport has partnered with Acorns who do fantastic work.
"It's fantastic to support them to bring some pleasure to the families who use Acorns.
"As an airline we're all about connecting people and it's really a pleasure to help people."
Josette Bayley, from Aldridge, brought along eight-year-old William, who has a brain tumour, and six-year-old Alex, said: "It was a bit of a shock. We had a call of a worker who asked whether William would like this and he's never been on a plane before - and a lot of his school friends have.
"Because of his health we don't take him away from the NHS and it's been a great experience for him and to make some family memories.
"It's nice that Alex is involved as most things are for the ill child only but Acorns doesn't do that."
Ciaron Gough, from Coventry, brought four-year-old Joshua and one-year-old Oliver – who both have duchenne muscular dystrophy – along with partner Katie.
The 29-year-old said: "It went really well and it's quite emotional – I was welling up.
"It's just been fantastic for everyone.
"The majority of children have life-limiting illnesses and every day you try and make a special memory.
"This has been very magical – a really magical experience, especially with the children seeing Santa."
The flight came as Acorns Children's Hospice in Walsall celebrated its latest milestone – hitting £500,000 after a fundraiser was launched to save it from closure earlier this year.
Toby Porter, CEO of Acorns, said: "It means everything to us because one of the core principles and mottos we have is 'making special memories' and you can tell that this will be a day that people will remember.
"It's a perfect day and we're deeply grateful to Flybe and Birmingham Airport for putting on this Santa flight.
"I've spoken to a lot of families and what I'm struck by is how many of them have not been on a flight because their child is poorly.
"It's difficult because of all the travel insurance and we take that for granted.
"So I think it's really special to do this.
"And it's important to say that no one's donations have been spent on the flight – this has been gifted to us – and I hope people will remember the appeal because this is what Acorns is able to do for families entrusted to our care.
"We feel very lucky as a charity. We felt we would have to close and now, obviously at the end of the year, we've been absolutely buoyed by the support in the community."
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