BULGARIAN orphans' morose lives were brightened up at Christmas thanks to the dedication and generosity of Thornbury volunteers.

Pete Brady, chairman of Holding Out Hope, accompanied by member Becky Cooper, flew to Sofia in December to shower destitute children and vulnerable adults with presents ahead of the festive period.

Thanks to the charity's fundraising efforts and the support of townspeople, its two ambassadors set off to Eastern Europe carrying nearly £2,000 to spoil youngsters in one of the capital's children's homes.

On their arrival, they headed straight to the shops and spent £1,700 on gifts, decorations and food.

Pete said: "During the past few months the charity has raised funds through running events, discos and cake stalls which enabled them to take £1,700.

"The money was spent to bring a bit of Christmas cheer to people living in these institutions, who without this support would have found Christmas time to be like any other day in the year."

On top of all the festive treats, they bought two foot-spas to help stimulate the home’s disabled youngsters. But the trip was not just a social call.

Along will all members of Holding Out Hope, Pete's ultimate goal is to raise awareness of the ‘prison-like' conditions vulnerable individuals are forced live in in Bulgarian institutions and champion their rights.

He added: "We were able to question the care regime within the home, which is not at all person centred, often fighting to ensure that the children’s teeth were cleaned, which was not a priority for the task focussed staff."

After a couple of days in the capital they embarked on a five-hour bus journey to Samuil, an institution for adults with leaning disbilities.

There, the pair organised a party for residents as well as a firework display.

"The institution is reducing its numbers of residents, however it really does need to close as it violates the human rights of its ‘inmates’," Pete added.

"In fact the institution is operating illegally according to the European Human Rights Act."

To make a donation or find out more about the Thornbury-based charity call 01454 411714 or email info@holdingouthope.co.uk