CHARITY: VIPs, including Jessica Ennis Hill, boost festive spirits in surprise visits

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Canine companion Bailey has an inspirational tail to share after changing the life of a young boy after he was diagnosed with autism.

And the black labrador - relied on by seven-year-old Charlie McGowan and mum Kirsty - was the star guest at an event held by Sheffield company Westfield Health.

The trio visited the offices of the firm on Division Street in Sheffield city centre to explain how a support dog like Bailey can change lives after Westfield Health gave a donation to charity Support Dogs to pay for the training of other dogs.

Rotherham mum Sarah Hadfield from Rotherham, whose son also has autism, also took part with their support dog Azerley.

Kirsty, who heard of Support Dogs after Charlie was diagnosed with the condition aged three. said: “Before Bailey came along, it was a struggle to get Charlie to leave the house every day and we were becoming prisoners in our own home. “But the change in Charlie since we got Bailey has been incredible - the two of them are best friends and are completely inseparable.

“We can’t thank Support Dogs enough.

“It’s been fantastic to visit Westfield Health to meet the staff and tell them our story.

“Raising awareness of Support Dogs and what they do to help families like us is really important to me because of how Bailey has changed our lives.

“I’d like to thank the Westfield Health team for supporting the charity and helping to ensure that others can benefit from a wonderful support dog like Bailey.”

Graham Moore, Westfield Health’s chairman, said: “It was a pleasure to welcome Kirsty and Bailey to our office.

“Bailey certainly was the centre of attention and loved all the fuss!

“Hearing Kirsty share her family’s story really showed how dogs like Bailey can change someone’s life and we hope that it inspires others to show support for the charity in the future.”

A Barnsley bank also had a star guest - in the shape of Sheffield Olympian Jessica Ennis-Hill.

The heptathlete visited Santander as a surprise to reward families with festive hampers and gifts.

Some lucky customers met Jess in person and others enjoyed a special ATM, or Astonishing Treat Machine, which featured the voice of the champion as a character called Holly.

Children in the branch were given funny Christmas-themed tasks to complete before receiving a gift, and their parents some extra festive cash.

Jessica Ennis-Hill said: “It was really fun to surprise the children and their parents, and to see the look on their faces.

“Christmas is such a special time and it was wonderful to be able to bring happiness to local people.”

Keith Moor, chief marketing officer at Santander said: “Jessica is a British sporting icon, and it was great to have her involved in helping to surprise and delight people in Barnsley as Santander’s Secret Santa.”

Another heartwarming seasonal story is that of Sheffield mum Olesia Tartakovski, who will help more children of war victims in her Ukrainian homeland this Christmas - after winning £1,000 using messenger app Tengi.

The 42-year-old of Broomhill is giving away half of it to provide books, toys and most importantly clothes for children, many of them left homeless, living in sub zero temperatures.

The rest she will spend on her own two young children, including a special trip to see the Christmas lights in London.

Olesi, who with her university professor husband Alex has donated gifts and cash for the past two years to help children of fallen soldiers in the Ukraine.

She said: “ It is my homeland and all my family are there.

“It is in a state of war, with a big gap between the rich and the poor. We are Christians so we are doing all we can to help these children. There is a big network of us all over the world. “

Tengi, made in Sheffield, allows users to send free texts and users are entered in a free Friday night cash draw - of which Olesia won the £1,000 first prize.

In Doncaster, generous youngsters .Spencer Criddle, aged 8, and six-year-old Darcy Criddle have done their bit for the Text Santa appeal.

They sold home-made cakes at St Mary’s School in Tickhill to raise £100 for the cause.

Their grandmother, Pat Rosser, said: “I am very proud of them.

“This is the second year they have done it and they hope to continue each year.”

Text Santa, which is a national appeal, is this year supporting Macmillan Cancer Support, Make-A-Wish UK and Save the Children.