AN optometrist has inspired children to focus their imaginations on acts of kindness in a writing competition which has led to the publication of a book - with all proceeds going to two charities.

Simon Berry who has a practice in Gilesgate, Durham, said: “We held the The Gilesgate Story Challenge for the local schools in Durham for the first time last year, when all the stories were about eyes and glasses.

“Slightly depressingly, in 40 per cent of the stories the children talked about people with glasses being bullied. This inspired the subject of this year’s challenge – random acts of kindness.”

“It was a subject which took on an added resonance with everyone helping each other through the coronavirus crisis. Everywhere we looked people were being kind and trying to help each other.

“When the NHS put out the call for volunteers within two days they had over 750,000 applicants. Communities supported each other and people set up groups for neighbours and check in on vulnerable people. I believe this crisis has shown that is something inbuilt. We exist to be nice to people.”

Mr Berry said nine schools had expressed an interest when the competition was first launched, but many had to drop out because of the lockdown.

He said: “There were two entries the judges were really split on. The winning entry was the Super Secret Society of Kindness by Noah Hockey, 10, of Penshaw, which was illustrated by Tim Cole. It’s about two sisters who set up this society and do good deeds throughout their lives.

“The close runner-up was Adrianna King, eight, of Belmont Primary School. Her story, The Breathtaking Adventure, is a fantasy story and dragons and unicorns. It is beautifully imagined, with a powerful and moving twist that had one of the judges close to tears.”

Her story was illustrated by Miles Nelson.

The proceeds of the book, which has just been published, will be shared between Cheesy Waffles Project, a charity for children, young people and adults with additional needs, and RTProjects which provides art therapy sessions for people suffering from depression or anxiety related disorders.

The Gilesgate Story Challenge 2020, which has 20 stories, will be officially launched at a virtual event yet to be arranged.

Copies, with a recommended retail price of £8, are now available from Durham Waterstones, Discovering Durham. in Prince Bishops Shopping Centre, and from https://www.simonberry.co.uk.

Last year’s Gilesgate Story Challenge is still available on Amazon or Mr Berry’s website. It raised £2,500 for Sunderland’s Grace House, which offers short-break care to severely disabled children aged five to 18.