Spread a Smile Co-Founders receive MBEs

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Spread a Smile is delighted to announce that its two Co-Founders, Josephine Segal and Vanessa Crocker, have both been awarded an MBE in The King’s 2024 New Year Honours for services to seriously and terminally ill children and their families. 

Aaron with Spread a Smile Chief Executive Lucy Jackson, Vanessa Crocker and Josephine Segal

Aaron with Spread a Smile Chief Executive Lucy Jackson, Vanessa Crocker and Josephine Segal

Josephine and Vanessa started the charity in 2013 after seeing the hugely positive impact a magician’s visit had on Josephine’s then 9 year old nephew, Aaron, during intensive cancer treatment at Great Ormond Street Hospital. They met in 2005, volunteering at another charity, granting wishes for terminally ill children. 

They started Spread a Smile around their kitchen tables, with a small but dedicated group of volunteers, making just two visits a month to Great Ormond Street Hospital with a team of four entertainers. Having seen first-hand the impact a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment had on Aaron and his family, they knew only too well how to provide entertainment and support which would have the biggest possible impact on seriously ill children and their families. 

In the last 10 years, the charity has grown significantly and is now the country’s leading provider of hospital entertainment for children and teenagers with 34 NHS hospital and hospice partners, making over 1,000 hospital bedside visits every month.

In spite of our growth, Spread a Smile has retained the values of kindness and compassion instilled by the Co-Founders from the early days, which is what makes Spread a Smile so unique and special and why so many donors and partners continue to support the charity year after year. Providing an incredibly personal service for all and building relationships with families has always been paramount for Josephine and Vanessa who know that one size never fits all. Parents often comment on how Josephine and Vanessa are always available to listen and give emotional support, offering a sense of comfort and community during an incredibly challenging time.

Both Josephine and Vanessa, who have been Trustees since the organisation started, along with their husbands, Richard Segal and Paul Crocker, remain actively involved in the day to day running of the charity. As part of their role, they make regular visits to children in hospital with Spread a Smile entertainers and Josephine’s therapy dog, Buddy, offering a listening ear, comforting advice, support for families and a warm hug. 

Anita Mahatme’s son Varun, now 20, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer in his spine, when he was 10 years old. Anita said As a family, we experienced the hugely positive impact of Josephine and Vanessa’s time and efforts. Varun’s long treatment journey was made so much easier by the help we received from Josephine and Vanessa and the Spread a Smile team. By providing various types of entertainment from hospital visits to outings for ourselves and our son, this difficult journey was made so much easier to face. The positive emotional therapy they facilitated was a key factor in Varun’s recovery.

“Raising a smile from Varun whilst facing the dreadful side effects of his chemotherapy was no mean feat, but Josephine and Vanessa and the Spread a Smile team would stop at nothing to brighten his days and get those smiles.

“Myself and countless other children and their whole families continue to benefit from the special gifts that these two people have… kindness, compassion and a selfless desire to go above and beyond to help others are rare qualities that set Josephine and Vanessa above the norm; they are the face of human kindness.”

Josephine and Vanessa said: We feel truly honoured and humbled to have received an MBE. We dedicate this to all the brave children and their families we have met over the years. Ten years ago, we never imagined Spread a Smile would be where it is now and we are grateful to our Chief Executive, Lucy Jackson, our amazing trustees, office team and entertainers who all work so hard to deliver smiles and laughter and to our generous donors too. We dedicate this award to all of them as well and of course to our own families too.

“We have seen so many children experience months or even years of gruelling hospital treatment, unfairly losing their childhoods, whilst their parents have to watch their child suffer in pain and miss out on so much – not to mention the effect this has on siblings. It has been and remains our top priority to bring them all smiles and laughter and some relief from their pain and suffering. It is always an honour and privilege to be a small part of their journey.”

Lucy Jackson, Chief Executive of Spread a Smile said “I can’t think of two people more deserving of this recognition and I am so incredibly proud of Josephine and Vanessa. Since the charity started ten years ago they have helped thousands of children and families, making an unimaginably difficult time that bit better and giving so many families an opportunity to find some happiness. On many occasions, I have seen them drop everything at the last minute to visit a child in hospital going through an incredibly difficult time or perhaps nearing the end of their life. Nothing is ever too much for them and their selflessness, kindness and compassion know no bounds. It’s not surprising how many families tell me about the transformative impact Josephine and Vanessa have had on them during their treatment journey.

“They founded an organisation that I and the team feel lucky and honoured to be a part of. It’s incredibly special they were awarded an MBE during the charity’s 10th anniversary year and we look forward to celebrating this incredible achievement together in 2024.”

Read on to find out more about Spread a Smile, how we are making a difference to the families we support and how you can get involved.