A FORMER patient of Acorns children’s hospice has been selected to ride in Father Christmas’ sleigh during his big arrival in Worcester on Sunday (November 26).

Josh Loader, from Powick, who suffers from Dravet syndrome – a severe form of epilepsy – has been supported by the Bath Road hospice, which provides support to life limited children, since it opened 12 years ago.

Prior to the big day, Josh, 18, was also invited to Debenhams in Crowngate shopping centre on Thursday (November 23) to select a new Christmas outfit.

The shopping centre, which hosts Santa’s grotto every festive season, has come together with Worcester BID to give the lucky local the chance to ride with Santa down the High Street.

Josh’s younger brother Logan, nine, who will also be riding in Santa’s sleigh, was given a free outfit too, while mum Bev and nan Joan both received makeovers at the department store.

“It was a big surprise,” said Bev after her makeover. “I got the message on Tuesday but the boys didn’t know until they came home from school last night. Logan was just so excited.”

Bev said Josh was “one of the first children through the door” at the city’s Acorns hospice after it opened in 2005.

Josh was diagnosed with epliespy when he was one, having had his first siezure at just three months old.

But he was not formally diagnosed with Dravet syndrome until around six years ago.

Every six weeks, Josh would go to Acorns for two or three nights “as a form of respite”, said Bev.

“I am very nervous leaving him with people. When he first did go to Acorns we had to stay for the first couple of days until they got to know him.

"But then, after that, I felt confident to leave him. They’ve been fantastic.”

Last Saturday, the hospice threw an eighteenth birthday party for Josh, who is a pupil of Regency High School in Worcester and has now begun attending an adult support centre in Malvern.

“It’s fantastic he’s got this far because we didn’t know what the outcome would be,” said Bev. “We were first told that he would only see his third birthday and he’s 18, so it’s a massive achievement.”

Erica Burlace, manager of Crowngate, said: “We have historically been delivering the arrival of Father Christmas for the city and it precedes Father Christmas going into the grotto in Crowngate.

“We like to celebrate it locally with local people, and the principle of it is about families and coming together, hence arranging it this year with Acorns.

“It’s the first year we’ve done it with the hospice. Historically we have done a competition. But we decided to take a gentler approach this year.

We had a discussion with the hospice and they selected Josh at their own discretion. They made a choice based on who would enjoy it the most.”

Alicia Griparis, Debenhams store manager, said: “We like to help out with the festive activities, this year it’s with the arrival of Father Christmas on Sunday, by donating outfits, this year for the two brothers travelling with Father Christmas.

“We like to have close links with Crowngate Shopping Centre and with the Worcester community.

“It’s about unexpected treats and having a great experience,” she added.