By Sarah Mills
LONDON, Aug 24 (Reuters) - Trainee Santas in Britain are learning how to make traditional grottos COVID-safe this year, with festive red velvet masks, spaced seating and a contact-free transfer of gift to child.
London entertainment company Ministry of Fun has been running "Santa School" for 25 years and this year started earlier than usual to reassure clients hiring a Santa and the public that it's possible to make the experience safer during the coronavirus pandemic.
Trainer and organisation founder James Lovell said there are three key changes they have advised on.
"We've created these masks, which, as you can see, they're red velvet with white fur trim, just like Santa's costume... I think a child will feel comfortable with that because I think we underestimate just how used to masks we all are.
"Secondly, there's the social distance grotto... Very easy to do and to make a child two metres away from Santa does not in any way take away from the magic," he added.
Thirdly, the school has invented a small sleigh on which Santa puts presents and which children can pull towards them.
Last year he said they had over 1,000 bookings over an eight week period for Santas. This year bookings are at half the normal levels, Lovell added.
"People aren't entirely sure about what they can do. And I'm hoping that what we're doing here today at Santa School is showing people what they can do and that they can do it magically."
One performer dressed as Santa said, "we have to be a bit distant from the children and also the grown ups too... but the fun and the joy and the love and the magic will never change."
Lovell did not say how much Santas are paid for appearing in grottos, but said the job was harder than it looked.
"It's very rare that an actor will have to stay in character and improvise and be magical to an audience of one or two standing a metre away from them. It takes a lot of concentration."
(Reporting by Sarah Mills and Will Russell Editing by Alexandra Hudson)
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