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Afternoon Tea at Riding House Cafe

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We were thrilled to be able to bring 11 young people and their families to the Riding House Café in Bloomsbury recently for a gorgeous afternoon tea!

We were joined by some of our amazing entertainers who many of the children would have recognised from visits in hospital. Magicians Nick and Sacha put on a great show, while Judge the Poet performed his spontaneous poetry and Marina who did arm and face painting.

The day was a chance for the group to spend time with others their age going through similar experiences as them. Having this shared connection can be vital for young people, to feel that they aren’t alone in their experiences. Many of the patients we support are required to spend extended periods of time in isolation, which means they are unable to socialise with other children their age or attend school full time.

Being able to enjoy time out of a hospital environment with their family is also a rarity and can be a huge relief, as they may not otherwise be able to. The families we support often say that the events we do have as much of an impact on the parents and siblings as the child in hospital themselves. We’re privileged to be able to provide these experiences for so many, alongside our work in hospitals.

Riding House Cafe put on an incredible selection of both savoury and sweet treats! The mac & cheese was a real favourite, while the donuts, red velvet cake, and pancakes made a great spread.

We began our partnership with Riding House Cafés last year, and have since been fortunate enough to bring a number of the families we support to their locations across London. We can’t thank them enough for all their support in hosting these days and putting on an amazing selection of food. They also continue to donate to us regularly through 25p added on to each customer’s bill.

Our 2022 Golf Day at Brocket Hall

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The Spread a Smile Golf Day has become a flagship event in our annual calendar. This year, we were joined by 160 golfers across two days at Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire.

The picturesque course with its beautiful fairways and wide lakes was the perfect setting and most importantly, the weather was mostly clear on both days.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a true Spread a Smile golf day without our incredible entertainers! We brought some of our magicians on to the course to wow the players in between holes which proved very popular and a good way for people to take their mind off of any bad golf. The Spread a Smile team were also on hand with donuts around the course to keep people energised.

We were also lucky enough to share a special video with the attendees, of Abi, who’s child Arianna we support in hospital. Arianna is known in her family as ‘Wonder Woman’, and has been so brave throughout her extensive treatment and hospital stays. We supported Arianna through cancer treatment when she was required to be in isolation for four weeks, without being able to see her family. The video helped to bring to life the work that we do, and show to the golfers why fundraising days like this are so important.

Our main sponsor for the day were Canary Wharf Contractors, who we can’t thank enough for their support.

We’d also like to thank our amazing tee sponsors who lent their names to each hole. These were, Engage FS, Opticore IT, CAE Technology, Franchi, Melburg, HW Fisher, Broadcast Revolution, Enra Specialist Finance, CMS Distribution and BH2.

We’d also like to thank these organisations who were generous enough to donate products and refreshments for the day including Parks London, Karma Drinks, Gold Key Media, SipSmith Gin, Delishious and Slingsby Gin.

Our special journey with families to the Lake District

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I have spent the last thirteen years working closely with children and young people with cancer and their families who go through the toughest of ordeals. I can honestly say that I  truly treasure opportunities to offer some light in these darkest of times and make them smile.  So, I want to take this time to share the story of an extraordinary trip the wonderful Spread a Smile team and I recently took with some very special people and saw smiles that we will never forget…

Last Wednesday, after much checking and double checking of lists and frantic phone calls coordinating last-minute details, our team of seven and I set off on a six-hour journey up to the Lake District with three families for our very first residential trip. And what better place to host this inaugural event than at Flynne’s Barn, located right in the heart of the mountains.

Greeting us on arrival were our hosts Katherine, Robin, and their son Harry, who set up Flynne’s Barn after their 17-year-old daughter sadly died of cancer in 2016. Named in her memory, Flynne’s Barn is a place where young people living with cancer can come together to find peace and forge friendships in the beautiful Lake District surroundings. Flynne’s love of nature and fearless positivity in making meaningful connections with other young people with cancer is a mission that Katherine and Robin have put right into the soul of the place. We were so thankful to them for hosting us and allowing us to bring the families of our three young patients – Lily, Joy, and Kayla – who had recently finished cancer treatment.

When Lily, Joy, and Kayla arrived with their siblings and parents, there was lots of excitement at the prospect of spending four days exploring the surroundings.

And what an adventurous four days it was.

Being in the heart of the countryside meant absolutely no phone signal, which was a blessing for us all to have a digital detox and for everyone to get out in nature.

Lily, Joy, Kayla, and their eight siblings joined in with forest school activities where they made beautiful artwork using trees, grass and flowers, as well as magic wands and potions, and jewellery out of sticks. They met search and rescue dogs, learned to play many new games, explored the area on beautiful nature walks, and even learned how to make fire, despite the pouring rain! One of the highlights were the evening campfires, where we roasted marshmallows and had many a singalong, which could likely be heard across the entire Lake District. It goes without saying that it was heart-warming to see all the children play together, get stuck into group games and art projects, and take no-screen time in their stride. As soon as they stepped into the tranquillity of Flynne’s Barn, it was like they could leave cancer behind and just be children, which was truly wonderful to see.

For parents, life post-cancer treatment can often be the hardest part, as they try to readjust to a new ‘normal’ and are often hit with the realisation and emotions of what their children and family have been through. Since these three families also experienced treatment throughout the pandemic, they had not had the opportunity to meet other families when their child was in hospital, meaning this experience was even more important. Whilst the children were energised by the surroundings and activities, the parents were able to spend time together, bonding over shared experiences and supporting each other, as well as playing games and doing group puzzles. Everyone, both the adults and children, were also able to find relaxation and restoration in aromatherapy and massages provided by our caring therapist Priya.

This would not have been possible without Katherine and Robin and the beautiful space they have created. I have known Katherine and Robin for a long time, and so this means a lot to me personally that Spread a Smile are able to partner and support the vital restorative and healing work Flynne’s Barn does for young people with cancer. That we can work together so that parents can see their children smile and everyone can take a break from cancer for a short while is something that I am beyond thankful that we can do for families.

On our new partnership and our lovely visit, Katherine and Robin said:

‘After hosting the Spread a Smile team with a group of three amazing families at Flynne’s Barn this summer we are delighted to be building our partnership. The welcoming and peaceful space of the barn, the restorative effects of nature together with the enthusiasm, talent and empathic skills of the Spread a Smile team created a winning combination. It was brilliant to see all family members across the generations visibly relax into their residential stay, to connect with each other and build friendships. Their time at Flynne’s Barn, being supported and entertained by such a wonderful team of professionals, enabled the children and their parents to leave behind the stresses of hospital stays, invasive treatments and separation from family members.

This first collaboration between our two charities is just the beginning. It’s exciting to think of the potential our partnership has for supporting families in a truly holistic way. Everyone came away enriched by the strength of the connections and new friendships made.

The vision we had for Flynne’s Barn is being realised. Our daughter Flynne loved the freedom that came with being in wild places and simply to romp in nature. The setting of the barn and its surroundings provide this. We offer a range of immersive outdoor and creative experiences that encourage connections, chats and camaraderie. Flynne loved to express how she was feeling through writing, music and artwork. We hope that offering the possibility to explore their creativity will help our young visitors to express emotions and support each other along a challenging road.’

Spread a Smile will be hosting our second residential trip next year, and we already cannot wait to visit Flynne’s Barn again.

Thank you to the Spread a Smile team, the families who came with us on the journey, Katherine, Robin, and most importantly, to Flynne.

Our incredible Summer Party!

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We held our first ever Summer Party on Wednesday 3 August, which proved to be our biggest and best event ever and we’re thankful to everyone who made it such a success. Seeing so many familiar faces was wonderful, especially outside of a hospital environment, in sunny Coram’s Fields in London.

In total, we had over 613 guests at the party: 330 patients and their siblings, 261 family members and carers plus 22 play specialists.

For many, our summer party was a rare opportunity to get off the wards to spend time having fun with their family. So many of the children we support require constant care, or are required to isolate in their rooms. Giving them an opportunity to celebrate and spend quality time with their family makes a huge difference in their lives and allows them to experience some normality for a day. Opportunities like our party are few and far between for the families we support.

The children who came had no shortage of things to do, as we had stations for face painting, teddy bear t-shirt decorating, sensory play, aromatherapy for parents, arts and crafts, magic, animals and so much more! The kids all got stuck in and were able to try everything, and it was amazing to see them moving from table to table to try all the activities. One particular favourite was where they could design clothes for the hundreds of soft toy pandas provided by Ikea or shoot the Nerf guns into the target with our friends from Hasbro.

As well as this, there were some amazing sweet treats! Lola’s Cupcakes came with their trailer where you could design your own flavours, while Crosstown doughnuts brought incredible mini doughnuts to sample. Also, we had generous donations from Greggs, Valeo Foods Group, Ocado, and Play in Choc.

On our main stage, we had performances from some our favourite entertainers, many of whom the children will have met during virtual visits or on Smile TV, but were able to meet in person for the first time. This included the incredible Judge The Poet and Captain Calamity. For our music obsessed guests, we had sing-alongs with our fairies Jasmin, Danny, Ellie, Tasha, Becca and Kirtsen and amazing singers, Collette and Joanna. The children had a great time dancing and singing to their favourite songs, while Krisgar and Tricky Teddy provided some magical entertainment.

The most rewarding part of the day for us was seeing the joy we were able to bring to these children and their families. It was a delight to watch them arrive with a smile on their face and anticipation to get stuck into the activities, or watch the activity on the stage. We spoke to parents who felt relieved and emotional at seeing their child having a great time, and experience the excitement and joy that should be part of every childhood.

One of these children was Jacob, who at five years old was attending his second ever party! Jacob has spent a significant amount of his life in hospitals, since first falling ill at 18 months old. Since then, he has spent a lot of time in at Great Ormond Street Hospital following bone marrow transplants, which required him to isolate for long periods. This has impacted Jacob’s ability to socialise and start school, but through our virtual sessions, he was able to sing and dance. Being able to host him and his mum at the party was such an immense privilege, and seeing him interact with our entertainers in person was touching.

As one mum said: “We have had the best day. You really don’t know how much this event has boosted my confidence to get out and do something. Leo being immunosuppressed after his heart transplant obviously makes him very open and vulnerable to infections but straight after clinic today we crossed that road and entered the park. I was anxious with the volume of people but my goodness I shouldn’t have been. Leo who has never ever had a summer out of hospital after going in at 8 months old and coming out at 2 years old. I always wondered how he would adapt to life outside… he embraced everything!!!! Thank you for getting us out and in a community where we feel safe, secure and happy. What I saw from Leo today was bonding, laughter, interaction and lots of new things to explore. I owe you the world and can’t find the words to thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

And another who said “What a dream today has been. Thank you so much Spread a Smile for a magical day. Everyone was thoroughly spoilt and Kallie has had the best day. From seeing her favourite fairy, to the bubbles, to the treats to the singing, today has been a dream. We are truly lucky to have such an amazing charity supporting Kallie and many other children who deserve the world and more throughout their journeys.”

We’d like to give a huge thank you to everyone who volunteered. Your commitment and selflessness allowed us to provide so much more fun and entertainment during the day. We’d also like to thank Derwent Art, Staedtler UK, Hunter Price International, Morrisons, Rainbow Designs, Spin Master, Costa Coffee, Swizzels, Tesco, Hasbro Under the Canvas, and City Scaffolding for their incredible generosity.

Finally, thank you to all who attended. Being able to put on events such as this is incredibly rewarding, and knowing that we can make a difference to your family is so special.

You can see more photos from the day on our Instagram!

Spreading joy at Camp Beaumont

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We were delighted to partner with Camp Beaumont for a second consecutive year, throwing parties at five of their school sites across London on Friday 5th August! This included, Colfe’s School, Mill Hill School, Kings College School, Claremont Fan Court School, St Helen’s School.

The events were attended by our amazing entertainers including singers, singing fairies, magicians, face painters who dazzled the children. There was a packed afternoon of activities including face painting, bouncy castle, playing guess the number of sweets in the jar and water fights. Younger ones loved listening to their favourite songs being sung by our singing fairies and asking them about life in fairy land!

We are hugely grateful to the team at Camp Beaumont for their generous support. In addition to helping to promote the work of Spread a Smile to the families attending the camps, they have also organised a raffle to raise funds in aid of our work. Thank you Camp Beaumont!

Inspiring art classes with Charlotte Posner

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We were delighted to host one of our favourite artists, Charlotte Posner, at University College London Hospital in July. Charlotte was kind enough to donate some of her incredible artwork to patients in the teenage cancer ward, bringing some colour and vibrancy to the walls.

She also led a workshop with some younger patients, teaching them how to recreate one of her most famous, iconic pieces: the ice cream pop doll! Everyone who took part had an amazing time, and came away with a piece of art that they can keep in their room to remember the day.

Allowing these children to express their creativity is vitally important, as they are missing out on opportunities to do so outside of hospital, such as in school. Sessions like these also help children to take their mind off of their condition for a short time, and focus their energy and attention on something fun.

For parents, opportunities like this can be a huge relief, as they are able to see their children expressing themselves and being creative, which can be rare for many patients with serious conditions.

Charlotte has worked with iconic brands such as Louis Vuitton, Harrods, Brown Thomas, and Mr Men, so having her in the hospital, engaging with and teaching the children was an incredible privilege.

We’d like to thank Charlotte for her time and her generosity in giving so much to these young people. You can see more of her work here.

Theatre day at Tiger Who Came to Tea

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For children in hospital, opportunities to step away from a clinical environment and socialise are rare, but vital. For families, this is a chance to spend time together and make memories, while for children it also allows them to interact with people their own age going through similar experiences.

That’s why it was such a joy in July to take eight families to the Theatre Royal Haymarket to see one of our favourite books, The Tiger Who Came to Tea, come to life on the stage! The classic children’s picture book by Judith Kerr was first published in 1968 and is still one of the most popular and beloved stories.

It was wonderful to see the eyes of the children light up when the lights went down, as they were enthralled by the show! The show itself was marvellous, amusing and packed with sing-a-long songs for all to get involved with. The children and parents were hooked from start to finish.

We’d like to give a huge thank you to everyone in the The Tiger Who Came to Tea team for hosting us, and making the day so wonderful for all the children and their families.

To top off the amazing day, our guests were able to meet the tiger, and he even posed for some pictures with more members of the cast! You can see lots of photos from the day on our Instagram.

Journeying 100km across the Greenlandic fjords for Spread a Smile

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Last week, two of Spread a Smile’s most daring supporters, Andrew Bloom and Jon Benton, took on a mighty challenge to kayak 100km across the glorious Greenlandic fjords.

Although it sounds idyllic, our two daredevils travelled deep into the Arctic circle for a tough seven-day expedition of camping in the wild, rowing the icy waters, and then hiking across the craggy Qaleralig glacier.

While training for their expedition, they were busy trying to raise as much money as possible, and have already surpassed their £10,000 fundraising target.

Jon and Andrew said: ‘We wanted to raise as much money has possible for Spread a Smile. We have fully funded this expedition ourselves so that every penny raised can help fund the great work that they do.’

We were cheering them on from afar as they set out on their trek, and were thrilled to be able to celebrate their achievement with them when they returned to the warm(er) shores of the UK.

Thank you so much to Andrew and Jon for all the money they have raised to support the work we do. We hope you appreciated the blankets, hot choccies, and plenty of smiles we had ready for you on your return!

You can find out more about Jon and Andrew’s story on their fundraising page here:

Back at Great Ormond Street Hospital after 27 months

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Last week, we were overjoyed and admittedly a little bit emotional to return to Great Ormond Street Hospital for the first time since the pandemic started over two years ago. GOSH holds a special place in our hearts, being the first hospital that we worked with when Spread a Smile started nine years ago, so we couldn’t wait to be back on the wards with the children.

We returned with a whole host of new and familiar faces to entertain the children and their families. Mr Magic and Magic Louise added some enchantment to the visit, while fairy Ellie and fairy Becca brought their sparkle. On top of this, we had wonderful music from Sar and Rosie with their guitars, and our amazing singer, Collette.

To top it off, we also brought along our newest ambassador, Britain’s Got Talent winner and unbelievable magician, Richard Jones. This was only Richard’s second visit with us to Great Ormond Street, and his first since the pandemic began! It was so special to be able to bring him to the wards and meet the children we support.

Laura Walter, Director of Services at Spread a Smile, said: ‘We were able to visit the majority of the inpatient wards and were welcomed back joyfully by children, parents and staff. Seeing children’s faces light up during our in-person visits is a feeling we’ve greatly missed.’

Lizzie Penn, Senior Play Specialist at Great Ormond Street Hospital said: ‘Everyone was so excited to see Spread a Smile back face to face, even though they have continued to support us virtually, seeing them in person made things feel normal again. One entertainer who has zoomed in every week said to hear the patient react was incredible as they can’t hear those subtle noises over zoom. All patients, families and staff were buzzing. Thank you so very much for continuing to support us, it means so much.’

Our flurry of in-person visits is set to continue this week as we will also be returning to the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and Evelina London Children’s Hospital for bucket loads more entertainment and smiles.

Two wonderful days at Great Ormond Street

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We were overjoyed to be back at Great Ormond Street Hospital this week for two brilliant events, Play Street and Get Active! These next couple of weeks mark our first official visits back to the wards, and we’re grateful to be able to start our in-person work again at the Hospital.

Play Street is a wonderful initiative held on Clean Air Day, aimed at raising awareness and increasing air quality at the Hospital. It forms a key part of our ongoing efforts to support seriously unwell children, their families, staff members and the local community.

On the day, Great Ormond Street transformed into a vibrant, buzzy, rainbow-themed play area, where the children were able to let loose and enjoy playing with their friends and family. The activities championed the therapeutic, emotional and psychological benefits of playing, in a safe, clean-air environment.

From falconry to gaming, and from giant bubbles to street painting, we celebrated Clean Air Day in style.

Get Active was Great Ormond Street’s very own sports day. With a wide range of activities available to over 500 families, staff and friends, the day was focused on promoting the benefits of being active following recovery, and encouraged children to get involved as much as possible.

Our team contributed to the fantastic day with magic shows, face-painting with Marina and Yvette, singing from our dazzling fairy Becca, spontaneous poetry, and a visit from our therapy dog, Thomas.

We were so delighted to be involved in the day’s activities, and proud to have contributed to bringing joy to so many children and families.

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