BARNSLEY’S real-life Father Christmas admits he was moved to tears by the sheer number of letters he received from people, pleading for help this festive season.

The Barnsley Christmas Toy Appeal was launched in 2020 by town centre barber Tony Batty and Liam Hardcastle as a way to give children across the town something to smile about during the pandemic.

But what started as a lovely idea has almost turned into a full-time job for Tony and his army of elves, with his shop on Racecommon Road being turned into a grotto for the record-breaking thousands of donations they’ve received so far.

And he admits his own Christmas wish would be that there was no need for the appeal in the first place.

“The appeal has totally broken me this year,” he said.

“I’ve received numerous requests from people seeking help for their kids at Christmas, as well as requests for food.

“What has happened to our country to make people struggle like this?

“It’s heartbreaking I’ve never seen so many sad letters asking for help.

“Something needs to be done because people shouldn’t be starving and going to bed on an empty stomach.

“That’s what this appeal is about.

“I’m just so proud of everyone it shows what Barnsley is really about.”

The appeal has grown massively every year since lockdown.

“It’s snowballed from there and it just keeps on getting bigger and bigger. It’s gone cuckoo this year,” he added.

“I wouldn’t even dare to say how many toys and donations we’ve received but it’s a much bigger event than it was last year (when a total of 5,000 toys were donated).

“I genuinely can’t believe just how many people have been donating it’s so amazing.”

And it’s not just toys people have been generously handing over to Tony and his ‘team of elves’.

“Barnsley Barbell have also sent over 510 selection boxes for the children,” he said.

“We’ve had a £500 cash donation as well as lots of other people donating £100 here and there.

“Everybody has blown us away with how kind they are.

“A simple thing like this can just make somebody’s Christmas that’s why we do it, so we can see the smiles on people’s faces.”

The deadline for donations was Wednesday and now this year’s Proud of Barnsley winner is gearing up to hand-deliver some of the presents to kids at Barnsley Hospital, Sheffield Children’s Hospital and Weston Park Cancer Charity.

But Tony says he couldn’t have handled this year’s project without his team of helpers including Holly Hodgson, Adele Richards, Clare Ramsden, Scott Beevers, Coun Ian Shirt and Rebecca Rose.

“Because this is the biggest year we’ve ever done we’ve been asking people to fill in forms rather than phone calls,” Tony added.

“This is the biggest year we’ve done and so the helpers or Santa’s elves have been absolutely amazing.

“It’s been a bit stressful this year and there’s no way I could have done it without them.”

Thanks to the donations, Tony has also been able to provide Christmas dinners for ten families who were going to be struggling this year.