VOLUNTEERS rooted in community have raised thousands of pounds to help a hospice in need.

Helpers had to cope with COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and atrocious weather as they embarked on an annual Christmas tree collection in aid of St Teresa’s Hospice.

The impact of coronavirus meant that fewer volunteers and vans were involved but almost the same number of trees were booked for collection in the 10th annual event, which has raised £74,000 over the past decade with the help of Rotary Darlington.

A full risk assessment was undertaken and safety measures were adhered to throughout the collection period, including crews being limited to two people who were in work or social bubbles, and PPE and hygiene products being used at all times.

More than 1,400 trees were collected from Darlington and the surrounding villages, including Middleton-St-George, Sadberge, Hurworth and Croft, raising £14,000 for St Teresa’s Hospice.

Communications and Marketing manager John Paul Stabler said: “We are so grateful for the efforts of volunteers who worked tirelessly in bad weather, which caused some serious delays – even the padlock at the warehouse was frozen solid which meant we couldn’t get in to the vans on time.

“With all these issues to contend with the result was especially impressive this year and certainly timely as the hospice struggles because of COVID to raise funds to meet its running costs.”

Helping this year were the John Wade Group and The Log Man who took in the used trees to be recycled, Durham Police Special Constable Peter Hetherington who helped with the collections and also organised his own in School Aycliffe, Andrew Gardner and his team from Trees and Fences who volunteered, Darlington’s MP Peter Gibson who helped with collections, MT Print which lent its van, and a dedicated team of hospice volunteers.

Middleton-St-George and Sadberge parish councils also arranged collections in return for donations.

St Teresa’s Hospice has been impacted badly by the pandemic. Funding has been decimated while it still needs to raise £3m a year to provide free, in-patient and community care for people living with life-limiting illnesses and their families in Darlington, South Durham and North Yorkshire.

An emergency appeal launched in March 2020 raised more than £100,000 in a matter of weeks and donations can still be made at www.justgiving.com/campaign/hugtostts.

Hospice chief executive Jane Bradshaw said: “I don’t think any of us expected the pandemic or that it would last this long and it is testament to the ingenuity of our community that fundraising is continuing.

“These are difficult times for us all and charities have been hit particularly hard. St Teresa’s Hospice certainly appreciates every single pound that is raised so we can keep our services going and the tree collection is an amazing example of this.”