Thanks for everything Trailer Bill!

Bill and Helen Bennett will make a donation as usual when their Christmas tree is collected from the garden of their home in Rainow this weekend.

Their only regret is that they will not be removing the branches themselves now they have relinquished their roles as volunteers with the East Cheshire Hospice Christmas Tree Collection.

Bill's ill-health has forced the couple to stand down reluctantly after 14 years on the front line of one of the country's most successful fundraising campaigns.

He is known as Trailer Bill, an affectionate nickname given by organisers to distinguish him from the other Bills who have been part of the army of volunteers without whom the service would not operate.

Bill explained: "I took my tatty little trailer the first year and trees were piled high on it, but probably spent more time shuttling back to the depot than collecting trees and soon realised it wasn't big enough.

"We were blown away by the enthusiasm and commitment of the volunteers and since that first year I've driven one of the Cheshire Vehicle Rental vans.

"We've watched the collection grow organically and the amount of effort put in is incredible, though I'm just one of the foot soldiers.

"It's organised extremely professionally and has improved each year, making it easier and better for the volunteers.

"It's hard to describe the atmosphere it generates and is totally addictive. We're going to miss it. Sponsorship means that costs are covered so every £1 donated in exchange for collection of a tree goes directly towards patient care."

Helen was a volunteer receptionist at the Hospice when they first got involved and doing the rounds collecting trees and donations has provided many happy memories.

Helen said: "We've met a lot of lovely people who've been so generous and grateful for this service and we're sorry to be stopping.

"One year a lady rushed out in her dressing gown waving a £5 note, saying 'I want to buy a tree.'  Rather puzzled, we explained they were all dead.  'Just what I need,' she replied.  'I snip bits off to use as kindling to light my fire.'  We took her fiver and delivered a dead tree to her house - all part of the service.

"Another year we called at a house and tried to uproot a tree that was actually growing in the front garden before we realised we'd mistakenly gone to the wrong house!"