Star Wars fans dress up as favourite characters to help children's charities
Nathaniel Bennett pulls the costume on over his head.
Through the slits in the helmet, he eyes his reflection in the mirror – a menacing Snowtrooper looks back at him.
It is just a regular Saturday for the South Yorkshire man, dressed up as one of the character of his favourite films series – and it’s all for a good cause.
Customer service officer Nathaniel – or Nat as he is better known – is a member of Sentinel Squad UK, a Star Wars-themed not-for-profit charitable organisation, based in the region, that raises funds for children’s charities.
Launched in 2013, the group has already raised tens of thousands of pounds for charities with appearances at conventions, family days, wedding venues and birthday parties all across the UK, all carried out on a voluntary basis by its volunteers.
They were one of five groups which appeared at the LEGOLAND Windsor Resort for the Bank Holiday.
“We’re invited to all kinds of weekend events by organisers, and it’s always such a pleasure,” says Nat, who is one of 100 members in the region.
“Everybody in the group has their own costumes, all of which have to be cleared by our admin team for authenticity, or crafted by individuals in the squad who have some incredible abilities. My Snowtrooper costume cost over £1,000 so we take it very seriously.
“We’re a tight-knit group of people, and really enjoy entertaining people – at big events and venues and even in the queues at conventions – and posing for photos.
“On special occasions we’ve presented cakes and gifts, and sometimes act out scenes which is always great fun. But while we’re all big Star Wars fans, and love getting in character at these events, it’s all about raising money.”
Since the group was founded four years ago, it has selected a different charity of the year, each year. In 2017 the group is raising funds for Magic Moments for Autistic Kids - a national charity which aims to help kids on the autistic spectrum, and their families, by funding holidays, short breaks, day trips and recreational activities.
Nat, of Barnsley, said: “We select our charity of the year in August and then fundraise for them until the following July. Last year we raised an incredible £10,000 for the Super Josh brain tumour charity. We’re all hoping to match that this year for Magic Moments.
“We have a stall at each event, and sell raffle tickets, as well as having characters walking around with donation buckets. Every penny we raise goes directly to the charity. Not one penny goes to the squad – our time, expenses, costumes, everything is covered by ourselves.
“It means a lot to us to be able to do what we do,” adds Nat, whose fiancee is also a member of Sentinel Squad UK.
The group, which started as a bit of fun between two friends, Mark McFarlane and Lee Stello, was awarded Yorkshire Cosplay Con’s True Hero Award 2016, for its charitable work.
“Founder Lee Stello is our Darth Vadar and we have a lot of fun at events with him,” laughs Nat.
“We often appear alongside Disney Princesses and Superheroes, but people really do love Star Wars, especially in the last couple of years with the new films coming out.
“I don’t see the interest going. We’ll be doing this as long as there is the demand and charities need our help.”
n Visit Sentinel Squad UK for more details, or follow the group’s activities at twitter.com/sentinelsquaduk