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Santa Claus is running to town!

Festive cheer came early to a local hospice as hundreds of Father Christmases made a seasonal dash for the cash.

Decked out in white beards and red suits, a sea of Santa’s went on the run to help fill the fundraising Christmas stockings for St Teresa’s Hospice, Darlington.

More than 340 St Nicks, of all ages, took part in the town’s fourth annual 5K Santa Run, which set off from the grounds of West Park Academy, after a countdown from Darlington’s Mayor Councillor Brian Jones.

The youngest entrant of the annual charity event, which raises in excess of £5,000 each year for St Teresa’s Hospice, was six-week-old Chloe Barron who enjoyed the run from the comfort of her pram.

Hospice chief executive Jane Bradshaw said: “This year our Santa Run is bigger than ever with a record 340 runners taking part. We’ve also got a number of four legged participants who have arrived with their owners to get in some early training for our fabulous Bark in the Park dog walking event, which we will be holding on Sunday, April 23 next year.

“It is absolutely wonderful to see so many people turn out in support of our hospice, although it is hard to recognise some individuals in their suits and beards. It’s like one giant game of Where’s Wally!

“We are all aware that times are hard at the moment and that the NHS is facing huge difficulties, which makes our work even more important. It is only through the fantastic efforts of our supporters at events like this that we can continue to sustain our fabulous hospice for the people of Darlington, South Durham and North Yorkshire.”

Festive runners were also able to boost hospice funds prior to the run with a tombola prize draw and gift stall manned by hospice volunteers.

Chairman of St Teresa’s Hospice Dr Harry Byrne, who was running with wife Jean and grandchildren Jemima, six, Finton, four and Rory, two, said: “Our Santa Run really is the start of the Christmas season and it’s wonderful to see so many people give up their time to support the hospice.

“There is always a great atmosphere, we have a great venue here at West Park Academy and we raise a great amount of much needed funding for the hospice.”