Some very special guests joined Haywards Heath mayor Jim Knight and the Middy’s Gina Stainer to turn on the town’s festive lights.
Charlie, George, Lorenzo and Maisey were all nominated by family and friends in response to our appeal to find deserving children to join us for the festive celebrations.
They were all delighted to be chosen and, with their parents, met with us in The Orchards ready to join the fabulous parade, featuring Father Christmas and his reindeer, a marching band, dancers, Mickey and Minnie Mouse and Donald and Daisy Duck.
Here we meet the winners:
Brave little Charlie was thinking about his daddy when he helped us turn on the Christmas lights.
Charlie’s dad Paul passed away suddenly 18 months ago, and Christmas last year was very tough for the Burgess Hill family.
Mum Michelle is working hard to make sure this year’s festivities are magical for her five-year-old son.
“The reason I nominated Charlie was because his daddy Paul absolutely loved Christmas,” Michelle said.
“When Charlie was born, Christmas became even more magical to us – especially once Charlie reached an age where he understood more and got excited himself.
“I remember one Christmas eve Paul took Charlie outside and was pointing up to the sky saying ‘look Charlie, can you see Santa?’
“Paul passed away suddenly on April 30, 2017, and Christmas last year was so difficult. Losing Paul was absolutely devastating, especially with Charlie only being four at the time. I tried my best for Christmas last year but really wasn’t feeling into it.
“I think Charlie being able to switch on the lights is going to help start the Christmas festivities early and I know Paul would have absolutely loved it.
“When you rang me to say that Charlie had been chosen my heart swelled with pride and I must admit I did have a little cry.
“This year I am excited for Christmas and Charlie doing this is going to help make Christmas wonderful.”
Charlie said his favourite bit of the day was being on stage with the other children and Santa, and pressing the big red button to turn on the lights.
He added: “It was so exciting to be right at the front of the procession getting to wave at all the people watching.”
Five-year-old George was mesmerised by the town’s Christmas lights last year, which he watched after he performed in the day’s celebrations with his school choir.
He lives in Haywards Heath and was nominated by mum, Holly Aldridge.
She said: “George has some additional needs including social communication difficulties and sensory issues.
“He struggles making friends and has moderate anxieties. I nominated him to turn on the Christmas lights because this is his favourite festival of the year.
“He has performed Christmas carols before with his school and loved the parade last year. In the past weeks he’s constantly asked when is the tree in town being put up and mentioned his dream was to turn on the lights.
“He was overwhelmed he was picked to join in the festivities and told me ‘it’s epic’.
“I want him and other children/adults to reach for the stars! Dreams can come true no matter what life throws at you and being unique isn’t different or wrong it makes you who you are.
“Embrace diversity and be proud of who you are.”
George loved being part of the celebrations on Saturday, and said his favourite part was walking in the parade, seeing his friends and waving at everyone. “It was epic, the best time ever,” he said.
Lorenzo is a determined young man who has worked hard to overcome his disabilities.
In August, the eight-year-old from Burgess Hill jumped on his trike to raise funds for the Dame Vera Lynn Children’s Charity.
Lorenzo is a former pupil of the Cuckfield-based charity, where he attended its early intervention service and gym club for children with cerebral palsy and other motor learning impairments.
He was nominated by Carole Whorwood from the charity, who praised his fundraising efforts.
She said: “In August this year Lorenzo got together a team of family members and friends to take part in the Superhero Tri event that took place at Dorney Park in Windsor to raise funds for our charity.
“This event is the UK’s one and only disability sports series and Lorenzo decided to take on the challenge by cycling on his trike for six kilometres which for him is a fantastic achievement.
When he started sessions at our charity he could not crawl, walk or run and has had to work really hard to overcome his disabilities.
He is an extremely determined young man and feel he is a deserving candidate.”
Lorenzo said he was excited when he learnt that he would be joining the parade and turning on the lights.
“When we turned on the button, it was such an experience,” he told the Middy. “I’ve never done anything like it. It was exciting.”
Of his fundraising work, Lorenzo said it had been a challenge he enjoyed: “It was 6k, I did 3k and then stopped to rest for 15 or 20 minutes, and then did another 3k.
“I chose to raise money for the charity because they helped me with my walking, and crawling. I wanted to help them.”
Maisey celebrates her birthday on Christmas Day – but last year instead of enjoying the day with her family at home in Handcross she spent the day in hospital.
Eight-year-old Maisey was seriously hurt in a car crash at the start of the summer holidays last year.
Her auntie Kizzy Stoner, who nominated Maisey to help us turn on the Christmas lights, said her niece had a long stay at St George’s Hospital after the crash.
“She spent her entire summer holiday in a wheelchair as she had broken her thigh bone, fractured her eye socket and collar bone,” Kizzy said.
“She made a recovery, but on her birthday – Christmas Day – she ended up back in hospital after the leg she had broken swelled up.”
Maisey was seen at Brighton hospital and allowed home later that day, but by the time she got back, she’d missed most of her day’s fun.
Kizzy said: “I always feel that her birthday takes a bit of a back seat because of the day it falls on. We do try to make sure we celebrate her birthday on the day, but it is always difficult.
“Although Maisey has been through a lot this past year, she never fails to smile and have so much positivity, I really admire her for this.”
Maisey’s mum Keeley Howe said: “This is such an incredible moment for Maisey and one which we are very very thankful for her to get.
“Maisey had an extremely challenging year last year after sadly losing her grandad and being involved in a car accident which left her needing support to get her walking again after being in a wheelchair for six weeks.
“Maisey pushed so hard and was so determined to getting back to being able to play with her brother and cousins that she surpassed what her consultant, nurses and even her physio thought.
“Maisey is left with scars which left her in tears at first but now she is just so happy she is here and so thankful to all the people that helped her that she is now somewhat proud of them and what they stand for.
“Maisey is such a funny strong caring girl who wants nothing more then to be a superstar (her words). We love you moogie.”
Huge crowds turned out for the Haywards Heath Christmas Festival and lights switch on. Read our story here: Haywards Heath Christmas Festival and lights switch on in pictures