A COMMUNITY united by Christmas spirit crowded into a church for the inaugural Witney Wonderland.

The five-week festival launched at St Mary's Church on Friday, after families crammed into Market Square to watch the town's Christmas lights switch-on.

Friday's festivities featured music performances, roaming entertainers and a display of 28 towering Christmas trees.

Each was decorated and illuminated by a businesses, community group or charity, including Oxford-based hospice Helen & Douglas House.

The church festival was organised by Dianne Parkes, co-founder of children's cancer charity Joss Searchlight, and Toby Wright, area dean of Witney.

Mrs Parkes, who lives in the town, set up the charity with her husband after their son Joss died of cancer aged 10.

She said: "It was just amazing. We had queues and queues of people and sadly had to turn some away.

"It just looks so beautiful - I really hope this is the first of many.

"I think some people thought it would be a big party but most people saw there were emotional reasons behind it.

"There were people in wheelchairs with life-threatening illnesses who helped to make the church look fabulous. One came over and said 'that was the best day I've had in months.'"

The festival features a packed programme of performances, and is open to visitors from 9am until 5pm every day until Saturday, January 5.

Mrs Parkes said: "People treated my little boy like he was different, but put him on stage and he was an outstandingly good drummer -  at that point the way other children treated him became 'wow, Joss, you're so cool'.

"Just because you have some kind of problem doesn't mean you can't perform."

Joss baffled doctors as his brain tumour should have hindered his ability to drum - the only conclusion they could come to was that he was so determined, he managed to access a different part of his brain.

The church festival will raise money for Joss Searchlight as well as the Parishes of Witney.

On Saturday there will be singalongs of traditional Christmas carols around the piano, at midday, 2pm and 4pm.

Mrs Parkes said: "It would be nice to have a big church-full of people, drinking mulled wine and having a singalong. This is the real meaning behind Christmas - communities coming together in the Church."

Visit witneywonderland.co.uk for details.