Children banned from Santa’s knee in ‘grumpy grotto’

Santa’s seasonal shed in Colne’s indoor market has this week been dubbed a “grumpy grotto” - after children were told they are not allowed to sit on Father Christmas’s knee.

A sign has been put in place at the Market Street attraction, scrapping a long-standing festive tradition and forbidding any contact with everyone’s favourite Christmas character.

According to Pendle Council the policy has been in place for three years, in accordance with child safeguarding advice from the NSPCC and other organisations - but for some parents, including father-of-two Craig McBeth, it is “just PC gone mad”.

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Mr McBeth (33), from Winewall, said: “I’m there, wandering around, having a browse, and I see a little grotto in the indoor market.

“I thought that’s nice, and then I saw a sign saying children cannot sit on Santa’s knee and there should be no physical contact.

“I just had this image of a child at one end of the room, and Santa at the other. Santa will have been CRB checked, so what’s the problem?

“I don’t want to get too negative about it, but from my point of view the sign gives the impression something is wrong.”

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Responding, Pendle Council’s market manager Ian Varley said the grotto brings “happiness to hundreds of children and parents” - and expressed disappointment the focus had not been on the positive outcomes the service produces.

He said: “The grotto at Colne Market Hall is operated primarily by market staff, supported by market traders, who build and run the grottos in their own time to provide an opportunity for local children to visit Santa in the run-up to Christmas. More importantly it raises money for Pendleside Hospice.

“The ‘no physical contact’ policy has been in place for the past three years, since the initial opening of the volunteer grottos, following original child safeguarding advice from the NSPCC and other organisations.

“We are aware the NSPCC guidelines have since been relaxed and, on occasion, where a baby or very young infant has been thrust into Santa’s arms, he has the discretion to allow such contact.

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“Child safety is the main priority and, where possible, we wish to avoid any doubt, complaint or accusation that could arise out of such physical contact.

Parents have, on a few occasions, asked why we operate the grotto in this way, but when we explain why, they immediately understand and accept that we have the best interests of children and volunteers at heart.”