Former Ulster, Ireland and British and Irish Lions rugby ace Tommy Bowe, Ireland’s number one country singing star Nathan Carter and Northern Ireland Women’s Football Team captain, Marissa Callaghan have signed up as ambassadors for the Northern Ireland Children to Lapland and Days to Remember Trust (NICLT).

The stars join existing NICLT President, television broadcaster, Gerry Kelly, to make a quartet of high profile faces to champion the charity as it embarks on its Three Steps to Christmas Campaign for a second year.

The campaign was launched last year as the charity’s usual annual Lapland trip with 100 local children with life threatening or life limiting conditions had to be cancelled because of the pandemic.

Instead, the charity raised funds to give 100 local children, who were nominated by the paediatric departments and hospitals in NI, a new experience, including a detailed personal letter from Santa, a video from the man himself from his grotto in Lapland, a visit from Santa and his elves as well as a gift to the value of £200, all received in the safety of their own homes.

The campaign also sees siblings of those affected by illness and/or disability receive smaller gifts. The initiative will be broadened this Christmas to include children who attend the NI Children’s Hospice. Gifts of sensory equipment will also be sent to the Hospice and to each of the eight Special Paediatric Units across Northern Ireland.

The three new ambassadors will support NI Children to Lapland and Days to Remember Trust’s drive to raise funds for the children it supports, not just this Christmas, but all year round.

Tommy Bowe said: “As soon as I heard about the work of the NI Children to Lapland Trust, I was blown away and was delighted to be asked to get involved. Last year, I was lucky enough to deliver some toys and to see the joy on the faces of the young people was a really humbling experience. As a father of two young children myself, I can’t imagine what the families are going through.”

Nathan Carter describes the charity’s work as “amazing” and commented that “it is an absolute honour to become one of its Ambassadors. Helping to deliver some presents last year was certainly one of the highlights of my Christmas.”

Marissa Callaghan added: “In May of this year, Josh Eastwood from Donaghadee ran a marathon every day to raise funds for the NI Children to Lapland Trust and Cancer Research. I was asked to run with him one day for some moral support and that’s when I first learned about the work the charity does and met the people involved. After that I just wanted to do more for what is a very special charity and I am really looking forward to helping deliver some presents this year.”

Welcoming the new celeb ambassadors, NICLT Chair Colin Barkley, said: “This year the drive will need more support given we are expanding its reach to include eight paediatric units across Northern Ireland. Each of those units and the NI Children’s Hospice will receive sensory toys and equipment which best suit their needs, and at a cost from £800 to £1100. The campaign will also be supported by a host of corporate sponsors, each of which will sponsor a specific unit.”

The charity’s President Gerry Kelly continued: “We receive no Government or Lottery funding and everything we do is entirely self-funded, relying on the generosity of individuals and companies across NI. We count ourselves very fortunate to have our fund-raising teams in Carrickfergus, North Down and the North Coast and our Corporate Partners, The Bushmills Inn, Glens of Antrim Potatoes, C-Tec (NI) in Newry, Hagan Homes, Wineflair, Barclay Communications, CosyRoof and Bells Crossgar Motors by our side.”

“Their ongoing support once again this year, allows us to start making even more ambitious plans for 2022, which, if circumstances allow, we hope will include taking an even larger group than originally anticipated to Disneyland in Paris as well as our annual trip to Lapland.”

To find out more about the charity click on https://www.niclt.org or follow on Facebook @childrentolaplandtrust

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