As the countdown to Christmas edges ever closer, the Burton Mail takes a closer look at the well-known and beloved community project Derek's Tree.

The project, started by Derek Liddle of Main Street, Burton, 23 years ago, and this year’s scheme is now about to conclude its final two days of collections.

Started from Derek's own home in Birmingham for its first season, the community project has hosted its collections services in Burton town centre for 22 years.

Its base is now in Coopers Square shopping centre, outside Boots and Marks and Spencer, after years in the nearby Octagon centre.

The project is now run by a whole host of volunteers as Derek himself takes a back seat.

These volunteers have dedicated days, hours or simply minutes of their time to help bring a little bit of Christmas joy to the children who are most in need.

Derek Liddle started Derek's Tree 23 years ago

Each year charities in the area compile a list of children who make use of their services, are known to staff as being in need and who may otherwise go without a present for Christmas.

Staff and volunteers from these charities ask each of these children what gift they would like for Christmas.

Their first name, age and what gift they would like are then printed on cardboard gift tags, which are hung on a tree in Coopers Square shopping centre.

Passers-by can choose one of these tags and buy the present for one of the children.

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The team of volunteers then check to make sure the gifts are safe and appropriate, and package them up for the recipients.

Run on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday each week – the project comes to a close this weekend, on Sunday, December 10.

The presents will now be handed out to the children’s homes in the remaining run-up to Christmas.

Founder Mr Liddle said: "We go to different charities; we deal with 18 in total, as well as refuges, to find out what children are under their care and won't get much for Christmas. We have cards and hang them on the tree.

"The general public come along and pick a tag to buy a present for that child. If we do not do this then the child will not get anything. We handed out £56,000 worth of gifts last year and we collected presents for three weeks.

"We wrap all the presents up ourselves so we know what is inside of them and then deliver them to the children."

Volunteers at the Coopers Square base have been working around the clock to keep the project moving, while members of the public of all ages have been collecting gifts, as well as donating wrapping paper.

Dedicated volunteers Pamela Anderson, Jude Harrison and Norma Clarke next to Derek's Tree in Coopers Square Shopping Centre
Dedicated volunteers Pamela Anderson, Jude Harrison and Norma Clarke next to Derek's Tree in Coopers Square Shopping Centre

Last year’s collection brought in 4,000 gifts valued at more than £56,000 – with this year’s project already totalling more than 3,000 presents when the Burton Mail spoke to volunteers ahead of the final weekend.

Pamela Anderson, 81, has been volunteering as part of the project for 18 or 19 years after meeting Derek via the Burton Lions group.

Having spent years working at what was Belvedere Junior School, now Kingfisher Academy, in Burton, Pam had a first person insight into children in need around Burton and says that Burtonians are always willing to give a little back.

She said: "It has a great impact on children’s lives. I’ve always enjoyed getting involved with charities and working with children during my time at Belvedere and teaching in Malaysia and Zambia with my husband.

"You always find that Burtonian people are very giving. People are always coming down and doing everything they can to help.

"So many children need a bit of joy at Christmas."

Charities and agencies which contribute to the project make a list of which items each year are key for children to have, often useful hygiene products, but volunteers always make sure that a kid’s gift parcel includes something special too.

Jude Harrison, who lives in Burton, has been volunteering with the scheme for a year but was previously involved via her former business as a solicitor, backing the campaign by distributing fliers.

She said: "It is all about supporting children in our community, and people can donate knowing that their gift will go to someone in their area, and make a world of difference.

"People can donate anything they can afford, whether it is worth £1, £5 or £10 – it all makes a difference.

"It is important that people know that they don’t have to spend a lot to help.

Dedicated volunteer Pamela Anderson and Burton Albion female football coordinator Lucy Jelf next to Derek's Tree in Coopers Square Shopping Centre
Dedicated volunteer Pamela Anderson and Burton Albion female football coordinator Lucy Jelf next to Derek's Tree in Coopers Square Shopping Centre

"This year has been amazing, so many volunteers have come down to help and people have picked up a present for a child while passing by here.

"And through Facebook we can spread messages about days and times we need help; it all makes it so much easier."

Pam told the Burton Mail that the project had changed over the years, not just through how much is donated, but also what is donated or needed.

This year bath bombs have been a particular favourite for girls, while baking sets have also been a regular request – both for boys and girls.

Dozens of businesses assist with the Derek’s Tree project each year, handing out information cards to staff and customers.

Lucy Jelf, 23, a female football co-ordinator at Burton Albion popped by the collection point in Coopers Square to donate a Brewers hat.

She said: "We do everything we can to give something back and help the community, not just through our projects like Able To Albion or football, but by doing something small.

"It’s doing something small to put a smile on someone’s face."

Businesses such as Kerry Foods, Incredible Kids Nursery, GAI-Tronics and Scargill Mann are just a handful of the businesses who have pitched in this year.

Norma Clarke was also hard at work on the Derek’s Tree booth when the Burton Mail popped by; she has been volunteering with the project for three years.

She said: "So many children are preparing themselves for more hardship, and have what may not a very good Christmas ahead of them, and this could make a real difference to their lives."

The final donation days are Saturday, December 9 from 10am until 6pm and Sunday, December 10 from 10am until 4pm.