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Santas trained to social distance as Christmas nears

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(24 Aug 2020) LEAD IN:
Santas are getting schooled in social distancing ahead of a coronavirus-influenced Christmas.
Organisers, who supply Father Christmas performers to stores across the UK, say there's been a drop in bookings this year, as businesses struggle with new safety restrictions.

STORY-LINE:
He's making a list, he's checking it twice… he's also prepping a mask, visor and hand sanitiser.
These Santas are being put through their paces at a special "COVID-Safe Summer Training Session".
It's been organised by The Ministry of Fun, which supplies Father Christmas performers to stores and shopping centres across the UK through the festive season.
The entertainment agency's founder, James Lovell, says it's the biggest challenge to his business in its 25 years of operation.
"With everything that's been going on, there is a certain caution and nervousness out there about booking Father Christmas for Christmas grottos," he says.
"So, the purpose of today has been to show that actually, you can still produce a Christmas grotto magically and safely."
With just four months to go till Christmas Day, Lovell says bookings are down, as businesses across the UK struggle to plan for a COVID-safe festive period.
Lovell says last year they had around 1,000 bookings throughout November and December, using almost 50 Father Christmas performers.
Normally by this time of year, they would have half of their bookings confirmed, but they're currently running "under 50 percent of that" says the company founder.
"It's not doom and gloom yet, but things haven't been confirmed that normally are. There's a certain confusion, maybe people need reassuring," he says.
That means a host of new measures, including a red velvet face mask for Santa, socially distanced visits and plenty of "santa-tiser".
"Before COVID-19 came along, it's always been a fresh-faced Father Christmas," says Lovell.
"So, we've had to look at that. And rather than hide the fact that Father Christmas is wearing a mask, we've created red velvet masks with white fur that look rather elegant."
And rather than passing presents to children, the entertainment agency has developed a present-laden sleigh that children can pull towards themselves.
"The child pulls a little sleigh, and da daa, they get their own presents delivered to them," explains Lovell.
"Santa James" has been working as a Father Christmas performer for almost ten years now, he hopes there won't be too many changes to traditional grotto visits.
"It is going to be a little bit different, but hopefully they won't notice too much at all, as long as we maintain a safe distance and as long as we wear the mask and keep everything nice and clean, then they shouldn't notice any difference, and the magic would be exactly the same," he says.
He says many are in need of a magical Christmas, after a difficult year.
"This year has been very bad for a lot of people. So, it's even more important that Christmas is that shining light, something that we can travel towards going; 'Yes, there is light at the end,'" he says.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Santa Claus is still coming to town.

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