Spread a Smile currently works with 25 NHS hospital partners and two hospices to support seriously ill children and young people under their care. To understand more about our impact of our work, we spoke to Tina Halton, Play Service Team Lead at St Mary’s Hospital, London who we have been supporting since 2014.
Tina said: “Spread a Smile have a marvellous ability to make the staff smile, without compromising on their total commitment to making each child feel special. For example, the positive calming effect of the therapy dog visits on everyone is clear to see. Thomas and Harry (dogs) stop to ‘say’ hello to everyone from the consultants to the cleaners and you can see the staff continue with their day a little bit happier after a stroke. This sense of calm filters through and the staff love to share stories of their own pets with the families who can often be seen getting out photos of their pets and telling stories. Everyone love the visit days. It makes their day calmer and helps them do the medical/nursing roles whilst the children are entertained.
“Spread a Smile’s impact on the patients cannot be underestimated. Their entertainers are carefully chosen with care and it shows. They are the best of the best at what they do. By that I mean they are abundantly talented but most important are the subtleties of their interactions with each patient. Being able to engage and impress a teenager who’s having a terrible time, for a few quiet moments in a magic trick or capturing the mood on intensive care to sing a calm song to a baby who would otherwise be listening to the beeps on a machine is worth its weight in gold.
“Without Spread a Smile, the wards wouldn’t be quite so bright! Funding in the NHS is stretched so although we still try to make it as fun and nice as we can for the families, in reality, Marina’s window art and hospital murals bring a new life and positivity to an often-overlooked space.
“On the days Spread a Smile don’t visit the wards, we still create fun for the kids, but it’s not the same as having a new entertainer visit or a surprise delivery of red heart Valentine’s Day balloons. These things remind the families that they haven’t been forgotten and the little moment of attention brings fresh smiles. The kids see us all the time so the novelty wears off! We would all be sad not to see a fresh smiling face.
“I’ve seen Spread a Smile grow in both size and scope, but it hasn’t lost its heart at the core. The range of entertainment and events continue to be unique to Spread a Smile, but all possess the same personal touch. The hospital programme is expertly planned and delivered by people who understand the healthcare field well and really care. What they do appears effortless but in fact takes a lot of effort and dedication. Love goes into every virtual session, gift drop and visit. This is the magic. Nothing is too much – if they can make it happen, they will!
“As Spread a Smile implements changes, they have always been focused first and foremost on the child. We know that safeguarding, safety and infection control is always a top priority and never an afterthought. Spread a Smile has confidently risen to the challenges of the last couple of years. Working alongside acute hospital trusts is never an easy task and none of us could plan for the impact this time has had on children in hospital. The adaptability and consistency of Spread a Smile throughout the pandemic and beyond proves that they are versatile and without a doubt one of our most reliable support. We moved fluidly alongside them as we all navigated the crazy hospital world during this time. It is exciting to be a part of what Spread a Smile does next.
“One of my most memorable moments of working with Spread a Smile was during a session with a poorly young girl with additional needs. She was in an isolation room as she had a low immune system so wasn’t allowed visitors. She had begun feeling very unwell and her Mum, who was staying by her bedside, was completely exhausted. The little girl joined a virtual session with Makaton (expertly aimed right at her level) and the Spread a Smile team got her to join in the group session.
She laughed for the first time in days and her Mum took a video to send to her Dad of her eagerly signing back to the magician.
“Unfortunately, our hospital Wi-Fi cut out towards the end of one of the tricks and she was in tears for missing it. A quick phone call to Spread a Smile and they arranged for the child to have a 1:1 mini session with some magic just for her. She was delighted, as was her very tired Mum. She guessed the colours in the trick and waved her hand at the screen to make things appear, it was just right!
“Sadly, this little girl was very poorly and passed away not long after this session. I feel confident that the video and memories of the smiles during this precious moment are priceless for the family.”
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