EXCITEMENT is gathering ahead of the arrival of the Olympic Torch in St Helens which is set to spark a series of patriotic celebrations over the Diamond Jubilee weekend.

Thousands of flag-waving spectators are expected to line the route on Friday to watch 11 torchbearers carry the flame from Windle Island through to Prescot Road, St Helens.

The relay will then move to Prescot, where Knowsley Safari Park is staging a huge jamboree.

Schools across the borough have described how it has captured the imagination of pupils eagerly awaiting London 2012.

Up to 6,000 pupils are due to line the streets when the torch begins its journey from the Windle Island shortly after 2pm.

Dianne Holcroft, deputy head teacher at Bleak Hill Primary School, said “there is a magical atmosphere” among children ahead of this weekend’s celebrations.

Those sentiments were echoed at Thatto Heath Primary School, where head teacher Catherine Ireland said: “We’re really thrilled – it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them.”

The coincidence of the torch coming through St Helens on the eve of the double bank holiday weekend that marks the 60th year of the Queen’s reign, means witnessing the flame will be just the start of the celebrations.

Twenty-two official street parties will take place over the weekend, and other scheduled events are planned for St Helens town centre, parks and venues across town.

Among the most eye-catching events will be the lighting of the Billinge Beacon.

Meanwhile, business leaders hope the feel-good factor will lift some of the gloom surrounding the double dip recession and get people spending.

Ali Tyrer, the boss of Tyrer’s department store, is among those hoping for a bumper week.

She said: “I am just relieved for some good news and positive thinking for a change.

“It really lifts people’s spirits and breaks the cycle of doom and gloom.

“I think St Helens and its people are great at getting behind a national event.

“I am sure that with the better weather, the Jubilee and the Olympic torch passing by it has to help boost business and morale – well done Great Britain.”

On Saturday St Helens residents are invited to join the town’s Diamond Jubilee party in Church Square, between 11am and 4pm.

Follow coverage of the Olympic torch relay in St Helens via our website st helensstar.co.uk.

Our coverage of the historic community event will include a live Twitter feed from our reporters at the scene, pictures and stories.