A GRAVELY-ill toddler who has captured the hearts of thousands was welcomed back to her home town by around 200 supporters.

Little Poppy-Mai Barnard, who is 17-months-old, was given just a short time to live by doctors after being diagnosed with a rare cancer in February.


Her mum Sammi Baker-Barnard, 29, and dad Andrew Barnard, 31, were born and raised in Blackburn but currently live in Thetford, Norfolk, where Andrew serves in the RAF.

Poppy-Mai has received love and support from all over the world after her parents shared the brave child's story on a Facebook page called 'The Journal of Poppy-Mai'.

Yesterday, hundreds of wellwishers gathered at the motorway bridge on the Blackburn and Darwen border to greet them after they decided their daughter was well enough to return toEast Lancashire to see her family.

As the car carrying the family passed, those at the roadside released balloons and a round of applause broke out.

The couple who are also parents to Rylee, six and Jensen, four, were visiting family, including Sammi's brother, Jonathan Baker.

Mr Baker said: "It will be great for all our family to see Poppy-Mai back in Blackburn.

"I'm sure Andrew and Sammi were overwhelmed to see how many people tuned out to welcome them and show their support.

"The love, encouragement and help they've been shown, often by strangers, has helped them cope through this terrible time."

Poppy-Mai's cousin Katie Cassidy, 16, from Ewood, was at the roadside.

She said: "I just wanted to come down and show the family that people are thinking about them and that her story has touched us all."

Hayley Maxwell, 35, organised the roadside welcome event.

She said: "I just thought it would be nice for the family to have a nice welcome after such a long journey.

"So many people have been touched by Poppy-Mai and her battle with this terrible illness.

"I feel very close to her and it's great to see so many people feel the same way."

Among the crowd were Hannah Stuart, from Darwen, who had come with her mother, Bernadette Woods, from Darwen and her daughters, Isla and Tiana.

Hannah said: "We wanted to show that people here are thinking about Poppy-Mai and her fight and be here in person to show that."