A group of 60 people with learning difficulties, autism or illness were treated to a festive train journey thanks to the dedicated efforts of Dereham fundraisers.

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The Mid Norfolk Railway’s final Santa Special of the season departed from Dereham Station on Christmas Eve, carrying passengers brought by charities including Dereham Cancer Care, Autism Anglia, Mid Norfolk Mencap, Dereham Stepping Out Club and Dereham Gateway Club.

The tickets were funded by the Dereham and District Round Table, marking the end of a successful fundraising mission for 2013.

The group’s annual Santa Sleigh collection around Dereham and the surrounding villages collected £4,832.92 this year, with the Ladies’ Circle collecting an extra £480.

David Westgate, media officer for the Dereham and District Round Table, said that money would be distributed to local good causes in 2014.

But in the meantime, he said he was thrilled to see the reaction of the people who were given the opportunity of a special rail journey in the company of Santa Claus.

Mr Westgate said: “They are all locally-based worthy causes, and this is for all those people who would not necessarily have got the chance to go otherwise.

“It is brilliant to see their reaction, and the smiles on the children’s faces. This is now our third year of doing this, and it is something we are trying to put on our calendar as an annual event going forward.

“The Mid Norfolk Railway has been fantastic, and to use their service was a no-brainer. The railway is a charity in its own right, so we are collecting money and paying for a charity to do their work, while putting something back into the community at the same time. There are no losers in that triangle.”

Some of the train passengers were accompanied by Lesley Wells, leader of the Dereham Gateway Club, which acts as a social club for people with learning difficulties, meeting at the Dereham Community Hub on Rash’s Green.

“They were all really excited about going, some of them have not been on the Christmas train before,” she said. “They just love it. Although they are adults, they still have that excitement of seeing Father Christmas.”

Mr Westgate urged community groups, schools, organisations and individuals to contact Dereham and District Round Table if they would like to be considered for a donation in 2014.

“Everything we collect is spent locally,” he said. “We don’t make any issues about who we give donations to, as long as it is local, and it improves the life of an individual or a group of people in the Dereham area.”

For more information, contact the group via www.derehamroundtable.org.uk.

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