Thousands of children enjoyed a traditional Christmas treat with their friends to mark the end of a school year like no other.

Businesses across Cumbria stepped forward to support the festive initiative to provide a free lunch with all the trimmings, hats and crackers for children at the 11 schools within Cumbria Education Trust.

It meant a special coming together for children aged three to 18 at the end of a year disrupted by coronavirus. Schools were closed to all apart from key worker children in March, partially re-opened in June and classes have been taught in isolated year bubbles since the full return in September. Many traditional school Christmas activities had to be cancelled or have gone online.

Lorrayne Hughes, Chief Executive of Cumbria Education Trust, said the lunches had been a way to allow young people to celebrate within their covid-secure bubbles in a year when they had sacrificed a lot.

Mrs Hughes said: “These children have been through so much disruption to their schooling this year and they’ve not been able to enjoy the festive period as they would normally. This was one way of just celebrating being together and to reward them for the way they have responded to the challenges of 2020.

“There are more than 4,000 children across the trust from Whitehaven to Brampton and Longtown to Tebay, so it’s been quite an organisational effort, but the staff have been superb in wanting to make this happen.

“Backing from our partners and business supporters made these lunches possible and we want to say a massive thank you to them for their generosity. I think they all recognise the tremendous strain the year has placed on many people and wanted to do their bit to give pupils and students a bit of festive cheer.”

Businesses and individuals who sponsored the lunches included Bell Group, Cumbria Building Supplies, Lambert Gill Ltd, Day Cummins, Wates Construction, Connect, Michael Thompson, System People, Dodd & Co, Mark Fryer, Caterite, WF Support Services, David Allen, Thornton Firkin, Pat Pepper, Westfield Housing Association, Thomas Armstrong, Iggesund Paperboard (Workington) Ltd, Harney Trust and Dixons Home Store.

Most traditional Christmas school events have been held virtually this year. In Brampton, William Howard School’s young musicians put on a virtual Christmas concert, Longtown Primary enjoyed a socially-distanced visit from Santa Claus and at Hensingham Primary in Whitehaven there was a festive cook-along.