SUNDERLAND: Christmas came early for more than 200 men, women and children across the North East thanks to the region’s leading independent builders’ merchant.

Thompson Building Centres and TAPS, which has branches throughout the North East and Yorkshire, continued its annual tradition of giving gifts to people currently in the care of hospitals, charities and support organisations in the region.

Anne Ganley, managing director of the company, which is based at Commercial Road, was joined by Santa Claus and an elf helper to hand out gifts at The Salvation Army at High Street East, Sunderland.

They then headed to children’s wards at the city’s Royal hospital with presents for around 50 boys and girls before visiting the residents of Sunderland’s St Benedict’s Hospice and Newcastle’s St Oswald’s Hospice.

Ms Ganley said: “This is a tradition that spans more than 20 years and it really is the highlight of my Christmas. I always look forward to it and every year I’m humbled by the courage of the people we meet - I know our small contribution brings much joy.”

Thompson Building Centres, founded in 1955, is one of the North East’s largest independent builders’ merchants with branches in Sunderland, Gateshead, Newcastle, Durham, Team Valley, South Shields and York. A subsidiary, TAPS Plumbing and Heating Supplies, was launched in 2003.