BOLTON'S iconic Christmas Toy Appeal has been cancelled for the first time in almost 40 years over fears about coronavirus.

The annual fundraiser, run by Bolton Lions Club, should be entering its 38th year of providing festive cheer, handing out up to six toys to each child in the community who would otherwise go without.

Demand for the toys, which are handed out for distribution to Bolton at Home, Urban Outreach, and Social Services, has increased year-on-year in recent times.

This year, Bolton Lions Club have been forced to cancel their flagship fundraiser to keep their elderly and vulnerable members safe from the risk of coronavirus.

Jeff Hartley, the welfare officer at the club, said: "We're absolutely heartbroken, we've been doing it now for over 30 years with all the people of Bolton – everybody's been chipping in to help us out.

"Quite a few of our members are over 70, and we just don't think it will be safe for everyone to collect toys and distribute to families.

"This was a really difficult decision for us, we started discussing it last month – that's how important it is for us.

"It's purely to do with the virus, we just can't take that risk so it's a decision we've had to make with a great heavy heart.

"It's very painful for us to not do the appeal."

Bolton Lions Club would usually be starting to prepare for the toy appeal at this time of year, with donations usually accepted from around November.

Last year, around 1200 children from 800 families across the borough received gifts from the appeal.

Although the club will not be running their usual appeal, they are hoping to hand out vouchers to children under 12 for use at The Entertainer toy store.

Mr Hartley added: "It's a massive blow to the club to know that these children won't get their toys this year, but we are planning to do a voucher system to ensure they can get themselves a toy.

"We'd like to give out £20 vouchers to each child, which means we think we'll need around £20,000.

"It's a serious amount of money so we want to try and get people on board.

"I'm sure a lot of people will know about it because we've been doing it for years and I know they'll rally around us to help because the people of Bolton always help us every year."

The Entertainer has already agreed to support the scheme, and has also said that the vouchers can be used online to buy a toy.

Members of the club have approached businesses, funding schemes, and other charities for help, with Guild of Help already pledging a few thousand pounds to the cause.

Unfortunately, the group suspects it might have to reduce the age group of children they gift to under 12, as older children would usually be given alternative appropriate gifts such as toiletries.

Donations to support the scheme can be left at Jeff James Hairdressers, at 528 Blackburn Road,