EXCITED children gathered for the official opening of Santa’s grotto and the launch of Manchester’s Elf Championship at Stretford Mall.

The Mayor of Trafford, Cllr Patricia Young, was on hand to cut the ribbon at the festive family occasion on Saturday which also raised vital funds for Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.

After opening the grotto, which will now be open every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday up to and including Christmas Eve, the Mayor was treated to a faultless performance of festive songs from Stretford’s Gorse Hill Primary School Choir.

Councillor Young, who was accompanied by her husband and consort Michael, said: “There has been a lovely, busy, festive atmosphere at the Stretford Mall today and I have very much enjoyed being a part of it.

“The performance by Gorse Hill Primary School was fantastic. The singing by the children was absolutely beautiful.

“The grotto is quite a wonderful sight to behold and I would really urge families to come and have a look before Christmas.”

The Mayor was greeted at the Chester Road shopping centre by Stretford Mall Manager Colin McCrory who said: “Having the Mayor here today to officially open our grotto has brought a terrific sense of occasion to the event.

“I would second her appreciation of Gorse Hill Primary School’s performance which stopped shoppers in their tracks and brought a real Christmas spirit to our special grotto opening.

“We are now gearing up for the return of Manchester’s Elf Championship, which will be held at Stretford Mall on December 8, where we will be helping Santa Claus choose a new recruit to help him during his busiest time of year.

“We are looking for budding young elves to come and join us in their finest costumes and on their best behaviour.

“There will be an Elf Yourself Station in operation on the day, from 11 am to 4 pm, for anyone who needs help with their outfit and there will be some terrific prizes on offer to the winner and runner up. But all those who take part will take home a little something.”

Humphrey Bear, from Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital Charity, was also at the official Santa’s grotto opening.

He brought a team of collectors with him to raise cash for the hospital to send burn injured patients to a burns camp which helps children who are dealing with the difficult aftermath of a burn injury.

Two week-long camps are held each year, each for different age groups and the aim is to raise funds to allow 50 children to take part as well as staff costs.

For more information about Manchester’s Elf Championship 2012 or for details of free parking after 3 pm at Stretford Mall from November 26 until January 20 go to www.stretfordmall.co.uk