Brave youngster lights up shopping centre

Brave schoolboy Austin Sweeney was the guest of honour as the Christmas lights were switched on at Whitley Lodge shopping centre.

Big crowds turned out to see the six-year-old press the button to turn on the lights, organised by Whitley Lodge Community Spirit.

Whitley Lodge Shopping Centre Christmas lights switch-on.'REF 0112144393

Whitley Lodge Shopping Centre Christmas lights switch-on.'REF 0112144393

Austin, a pupil at Whitley Lodge First School, has battled leukaemia since he was two-and-a-half.

He had a bone marrow transplant after he relapsed half way through his treatment last year and spent seven months in isolation before he returned to school in September.

Austin was among children of courage who received Brave Hearts awards at a ceremony at St James’s Park, Newcastle, last month.

He switched on the Whitley Lodge lights watched by cheering crowds.

His proud mum Louise, a teacher, said: “He was so excited when he was chosen.

“He loves life so much and is always keen to try new things. It’s a moment he will always remember.’’

This year’s lights are better than ever thanks to the fundraising efforts of Whitley Lodge Community Spirit, a not-for-profit group including schools, churches and businesses, supported by North Tyneside Council.

Business owner John Evans, events manager of Community Spirit, said: “It’s the first time we’ve had decorations across the Lodge. This is thanks to the generosity of residents who attended our summer and Christmas fairs.’’

Children from Whitley Lodge First School sang carols and the Rev Peter Knibbs from St Mary the Virgin Church, Monkseaton, said a prayer and gave a blessing.