Francis House Children’s Hospice’s annual Christmas tree auction has returned to Quayside MediaCityUK for its fifteenth year.
The Festival of Trees asks corporate supporters, community groups and individuals to decorate and provide gifts for a tree, all of which are available to view and bid on at the festive Media City shop until Sunday December 5.
This year, the auction includes 42 decorated trees, sponsored by the likes of Manchester United, Co-op Ellenbrook, the Rotary Club of Salford with Swinton, and Coronation Street.
After browsing the selection, the public are invited to place a bid on their favourite tree, which can be done online – either by visiting the website or scanning the tree’s unique QR code while in the shop.
Last year, the Covid-19 pandemic meant that bidding went online for the first time.
Julie Williams, fundraising officer at Francis House, said: “The online bidding has been really really successful for us.
“Now I think with Covid, people are less likely to come out, people are still nervous about coming to shopping centres and things, so online has been really successful and it means that people can follow their bid.
“They can sit in the comfort of their armchair and keep bidding, so that’s good.”
She continued: “Also, it means that all the companies and community groups and individuals that have done a tree can share it with their family and friends.
“I suppose we’re attracting people or getting bids off people we’ve never had before, and that’s got to be a good thing for us.”
All the trees have a starting bid of £50 each, with some already having climbed to hundreds of pounds.
One of two trees sponsored by Towers Business Park, based in Didsbury, currently has the most bids.
The highest as of today was £750 for a tree decked with a £500 M&S gift voucher and a £300 Harrods hamper voucher.
However, it is the tree designed by Urmston and District Women’s Institute that Julie believes to be one of the biggest hits with customers.
She said: “It’s got all this handmade jewellery on it, and it just kind of stands out when you walk in the shop, it’s one that people are drawn to straight away.”
Another tree that catches the eye is one sponsored by Complete Logistic Solutions, which includes Gary Neville’s signed football boot as well as a Manchester United team photograph signed by Sir Alex Ferguson.
The selection includes trees designed by people and families with a personal connection to the hospice and for whom the hospice holds an important place.
An intricate model village makes for an eye-catching window display, the full set having been donated to the hospice by supporter Bill McHue.
As well as being able to view the vast number of trees on offer, the shop, which is rented to the hospice free of charge by Quayside MediaCityUK, is a place for people to buy Christmas gifts, their cards and gift wrap.
There are also lucky dips and a raffle, as well as a memory tree, allowing people the opportunity for a moment of reflection.
Julie says that since opening the shop on the Saturday 30 October, the reaction has been a positive one.
She said: “A lot of people come and see us every year.
“We have a lot of Francis House supporters who come in, but there’s a lot of people who are just attracted by a Christmas shop and come in.
“It cheers people up,” she added.
As the auction comes to a close each year, the number of bids begins to grow and the excitement mounts.
“Last year was mad on the final day,” she said.
“I had a lot of people stood in the shop with their phone in hand, upping their bids.
“Fingers crossed we get the same response this year!”
— Francis House (@FrancisHouseCH) November 27, 2021
Julie noted that her favourite part of the festival is when successful bidders collect their trees from the shop during the final week after the auction.
“They generally put a black bin bag over it and carry it out, and you see all these people walking through the shopping centre carrying a full tree, which is really nice!”
Every penny raised from the event will go directly to the Didsbury-based children’s hospice, which is open every day of the year to provide respite and end-of-life care.
Julie said: “It costs more than £4.7 million a year to run Francis House with the vast majority coming from voluntary donations.
“The families that use Francis House really depend on us…it gives them comfort to know their children are being looked after while they get a breather – but also it gives them chance to talk to other parents in a similar position to them.
“It stops them feeling quite so isolated.”
She explained: “If we didn’t have funding, if we didn’t raise money, then the service just wouldn’t be able to function.
“Most of the money Francis House needs goes towards providing services like respite care, homecare, sibling support, day care, end of life care and emotional and bereavement support. This all takes a team of skilled nursing staff who can provide high levels of clinical care but who can also have fun with the children and families giving them a great experience at the hospice.”
Francis House is celebrating 30 years of hospice care and Julie is hoping the event will raise around £25k by the time the shop closes its doors on Sunday 12 December.
The Francis House Festival of Trees shop can be found on the first floor of Quayside MediaCityUK (formerly The Lowry Outlet Mall), and the trees can also be viewed here and bid on until Saturday 5 December.