First came sponsored runs, then bungee jumping - now women are making breast plates to raise money for cancer charities. Lauren Pyrah puts on a brave face and tries it out.

LOOK very closely at the panda. Particularly around the eyes. It's been lovingly crafted - and the woman who made it didn't even use her hands. Instead, she used a far more risque part of her body.

Yes, that's right. You're looking at the latest way to raise money for cancer charities - breast plates - and I don't mean the ones worn by Russell Crowe, in Gladiator.

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This quirky fundraising effort, which originated in the US, urges women to make an imprint of their breasts on a plate and transform it into a decorative item - and now it has come to a small North-East village.

Inevitably, someone on The Northern Echo had to try it. And as I'm the newspaper's only full-time Darlington female reporter, and am not exactly noted for my shy and retiring nature, I was deemed the perfect candidate.

In truth, I wasn't really sure about the idea at first. Covering my breasts with paint in front of a photographer, a video camera and a total stranger sounded a bit dodgy.

But when I spoke to Joanne Scott, at Buttercups Ceramic Studio, in Hurworth, near Darlington, I was reassured that I would leave the premises with my dignity intact.

And I needn't have worried. The pottery is the antithesis of seedy. Run by mother-of-two Mrs Scott and her husband, Lee, the business is a place for families, friends and community groups to be creative.

Located next to the village community centre, it is light, airy and clearly family-orientated, decorated with colourful children's handprints and charmingly painted plates in bright and pastel colours.

"We decided on Breast Cancer Care plates because we have a few customers who are going through breast cancer," said Mrs Scott. "You just want to do something to help. And this is a fun way to raise money for a good cause."

There's an array of designs to choose from, including cherries, Christmas puddings and bumble bees.

I opt for a panda, because I think it's rather cute, so I go behind the screen, undress, get blacked up and make my mark on the plate.

I felt a bit silly doing it and found it hard not to giggle, but I think if you added a few friends and a couple of bottles of wine, it would be a real laugh.

Then, it's simply a case of getting cleaned up and painting the rest of the panda round the plate.

Buttercups will then glaze and fire the plate and, voila, you have the perfect stocking-filler for your partner this Christmas. That is, if he can tell what it is.

"One man came in and was admiring a panda plate I'd made the week before," said Mrs Scott.

"He was asking lots of questions about it and I explained it was for Breast Cancer Care and I hadn't used my hands to paint it, but the penny still didn't drop.

"A few moments later, a look of recognition passed across his face and he just kind of went 'Oh!' and rushed out of the shop.

"I think the poor man was a bit embarrassed."

All in all, it was a great experience and, despite stick from the boys in the office, I'm quite proud of my effort.

At any rate, it's one to show my grandchildren.

For more information about creating the breast plates, which cost £12 with at least £3 donated to Breast Cancer Care, contact Buttercups on 01325-722459.