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Sarah Cann

Our trip with families along the ‘Terrible Thames’

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Taking time out of hospital is vital for children to feel some normality, excitement, and fun.

Last month, we were delighted to be able to take seventeen families on a Horrible Histories themed ‘Terrible Thames’ tour, followed by afternoon tea at The Tower Hotel on the banks of the River Thames.

During our scenic boat ride along the Thames, the children heard all about the history of one the most famous rivers in the world from the tour guide. They were told stories from Julius Caesar to Anne Boleyn and were given a fascinating lesson into the river’s past.

When they reached the end of the boat ride and went through to our tea party, they were met with a surprise –  some of our incredible entertainers, including Mr Magic, Judge the Poet, and the much loved Ellie the fairy. Resident artists were running face-painting and arts and crafts activities where our guests could make their own treasure chests. On top of all that, the very special and cuddly Spread a Smile mascot, Buddy Bear, was also dancing and having fun with everyone.

One parent who came on the tour said: “Thank you to Spread a Smile staff, entertainers, and volunteers for making it a memorable day full of love, fun, and light. Thank you for giving my daughter so much love too. I can’t tell you all how much Spread a smile is such a big part of her weekly life.”

We would like to say a massive thank you to Birmingham Stage Company for generously donating the tickets, and to the team from Goldman Sachs who volunteered on the day to help the event run smoothly and ensure the best possible experience was had by all.

Giving families space to relax with aromatherapy

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Our in-person aromatherapy sessions are back!

Our aromatherapist, Priya Ganatra, has already visited children in Northwick Park Hospital, University College Hospital, and Great Ormond Street Hospital in recent weeks, to give both children and parents some well-deserved relaxation and head space.

For the children, Priya fully engages them in the session by asking them to guess the plant, fruit, or tree that the essential oil comes from, and showing them how to make their own aroma sticks.

For parents and carers, they are treated to a bespoke session with specially chosen oils and relaxation techniques. Parents often tell us that caring for their sick child in hospital has a huge impact, and they find they often cannot speak openly about it because they want to remain strong for the family. Having this time to focus on themselves in a safe space allows them to talk about anything they choose and receive a therapeutic session just for them.

Priya, our aromatherapist, said: ‘By offering families a safe space to engage in therapeutic activities and conversations that are of a non-medical nature, I have seen the profound impact aromatherapy within a hospital environment has. Parents utilise this time to receive gentle massage with essential oils, combined with breathing techniques, I have seen how their body language changes as they begin to relax.  They have often reported that the blend of oils and the impact of touch, has made a real difference to their emotional well-being, and this is important when looking after their critically ill child. Introducing children and young people to aromatherapy has been engaging, fun and given them a break from what they are going through. Whether we are making aroma sticks or receiving massages, their room is left filled with uplifting aromas that continue to spread smiles!”      

We first started working with Priya in February 2020, when we did our first parent pamper day at Great Ormond Street Hospital. While the pandemic halted these events, we were able to start doing virtual aromatherapy sessions, with pre-delivered materials at University College Hospital. Even over Zoom, parents found that being able to take part in mindfulness and breathing exercises was a welcome respite.

Now that we’re able to be back in hospitals Priya is doing parent aromatherapy days twice a month, alongside continuing to do virtual sessions, and bespoke sessions for individual families.

If you’re interested in getting involved in Priya’s sessions, you can email the Spread a Smile team at events@spreadasmile.org to book an aromatherapy session for you or your child in hospital.

Helping children sleep with The Mindful Almond

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We met mum-of-two, Ushma, in March 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic, when her five-year-old daughter was suddenly taken ill and had to spend five weeks in Great Ormond Street Hospital. This was a confusing and incredibly worrying time for both mum and daughter as specialists rallied around doing all they could for Ushma’s daughter whilst the country was going into its first lockdown.

In amongst the uncertainty, we were able to offer a glimmer of sunshine and distraction for Ushma’s daughter whom we had the pleasure of meeting when she joined our virtual art session one week. As she began to feel better, we were so happy to see her getting involved in our virtual magic shows and singing lessons too.

During the daytime, we could provide some distraction from the worries around her and help bat away the anxious clouds for a while. Yet, at night-time, these fears would return, and she would find it very difficult to get to sleep.

Ushma said: As a mother, being alone in hospital with my poorly child was one of the hardest and most testing times ever. I just wanted to take her pain away and I felt entirely helpless. All I could do was show her love, compassion, and a huge smile whenever I was around her. However, when I was up at night with her, I wish I had someone to talk to or I wish that I could have helped her settle better to sleep amidst all the noises, traumatic experiences of the day and the anxieties of doing it all over again tomorrow.

Ushma’s daughter was discharged with a diagnosis of AHUS – an ultra-rare autoimmune disease – and the support of an at-home nursing team. Although it was a relief to be home, the trauma of being so poorly in hospital continued to affect her sleep.

 ‘She would say to me: “Mummy, I have lots of tabs open in my mind, that’s why I can’t sleep, can you help me close them?” It was then that I started to explore all the ways I could help her switch off and release her anxieties.’

Ushma found reading detailed stories to her helped calm her before bed and soothed her to sleep.

‘That’s when I started to write and record myself reading mindful sleep stories and guided meditation and visualisation for other parents who were going through the same situation with their children. That was when The Mindful Almond was born. Now, both my children listen to the mindful stories before bed and it really helps them switch off.’

The Mindful Almond now offers a range of mindful sleep stories that parents can access to help their children who are having trouble sleeping. These stories sit amongst a collection of mindfulness resources that all aim to help bring some warmth and comfort to children at bedtime.

Laura Walter, Director of Services at Spread a Smile, says: ‘We are so supportive of the work the Mindful Almond does and are really looking forward to having her at our summer party. We’re pleased to say that families will also be able to tune into Smile TV for more videos on mindfulness from The Mindful Almond very soon, and we’re hoping to be able to bring bedtime story virtual sessions for children in hospital towards the end of this year.’

You can find out more information about the wonderful work The Mindful Almond does at https://www.themindful-almond.com/

 

Thoughtful deliveries for teenagers in hospital

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Tamar, Orli, Daniella, and Isabel from Hasmonean High School partnered with GIFT to make special gifts for teenage girls in hospital.

The result was 50 beautifully packed tie-dye kits, all with a gorgeous soft bobble hat and a hand-written note which Spread a Smile gave out to teenage girls at UCLH.

Linda, Youth Support Coordinator from UCLH, said: “Thank you so much to Spread a Smile for supplying the tie-dye activity kits for our patients. Teenagers receiving treatment at our Teenage Cancer Ward and at the Macmillan Cancer Centre have had the opportunity to get creative and colourful using the kits to create their own fabulous designs. Activities like these give precious moments of distraction to our teenage patients, offering space to focus on something different from their condition and treatment, and is also gives time to have fun and try something different.”

A big thank you to the girls from Hasmonean High School for being so thoughtful and creative.

Charity football tournament scores £8,000

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Last Tuesday, 11 teams comprised of our wonderful supporters and partners came together for a friendly 5-a-side football tournament.

Our tournament took over the Castlehaven Community pitches in Camden as teams battled it out for the Plate and the Cup. The Teams came from Enra Finance, ICBC Standard Bank, LMAC Group, Opticore IT, CMS Distribution, Canary Wharf Contractors, Hamilton Barnes, and Uncommon.

Congratulations to the winners of the plate, Canary Wharf Contractors, and of the Cup, LMAC Group! Even more importantly, we raised over £8,000 to spread smiles to children in hospital.

Also, a huge thank you to both LMAC Group and Canary Wharf Contractors for generously sponsoring the event.

The Easter Bunny delivers to over 2,000 children

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While Easter isn’t all about chocolate, it’s definitely the best part!

Thanks to the incredible generosity of our donors, we delivered over 2,700 easter eggs to hospitalised children across our NHS partners in the lead up to Easter weekend.

Our Spread a Smile team also hosted virtual meet and greets with the Easter Bunny, and children were able to get creative with Easter wreath making classes.

It was an extra busy week, which required a tremendous amount of effort and care from all involved, for which we are hugely grateful. Being able to bring joy and levity to children on a holiday which can be an especially hard time for young people in hospital, made all of the challenges worth it.

We were able to exceed our target of delivered eggs thanks to our wonderful supporters, including All Aboard, Enra Finance, Bregal Milestone, Binfield Road Surgery, E Imagination Store, Little Learners UK, and Chancellor’s School.

An extra special thank you goes to Mars UK, who donated over 1,500 Easter Eggs, and His Church Charity who supported us with the logistics of the massive delivery!

Our Head of Family Events takes on a challenge!

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Our very own Head of Family Events and superstar, Natalie Donaldson, will be running in the upcoming Vitality 10k run on the 2nd May. Having joined Spread a Smile as an entertainer nine years ago, Natalie has been a long standing member of the Spread a Smile family. Through her experience, she has seen first-hand the incredible impact our work has had on families and seriously ill children.

She has been training in her team of four who are all going to be running to raise money for Spread a Smile. Despite discovering that she might be more of a 5k person, she is determined to run and complete the challenge for all the children we support.

Natalie says: “Providing a moment of normality and joy for children who are suffering with serious illnesses is the most valuable part of my job. By taking on the 10k challenge, I hope to raise money to help us do many more virtual and in-person hospital visits which make such a difference to patients (and hopefully reach the finish line!)”

If you would like to join Natalie’s team and run in the Vitality 10k, check out our challenge events page here: https://spreadasmile.org/challenge-events/

All members of our Team Smile will receive running vests, t-shirts as well as any help and advice you need. We’ll also be there on the day in full voice to cheer you on!

Comedian Suzi Ruffell becomes our ambassador

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We are incredibly excited to announce that comedian, writer, and all-round fabulous person, Suzi Ruffell, has become a Spread a Smile ambassador.

Suzi came across our charity when a friend’s child was in hospital and saw what a difference our entertainers made. Since then, she has supported us by generously donating her winnings from TV appearances on The Tipping Point and The Weakest Link, and she headlined and curated an incredible comedy fundraiser in December 2021, at The Comedy Store, bringing along a host of her incredibly funny friends.

Suzi said: “I’m honoured to become an ambassador of Spread a Smile, the work they do is incredible, bringing joy and laughter to children and their families in the hardest of times. I’m very proud to be part of the Spread a Smile family and I look forward to helping raise more money for their wonderful work.”

We hope to bring bucket loads of laughter and cheer through our new partnership with Suzi who will be hosting another comedy night later this year in aid of the thousands of critically ill children and families that we support at Spread a Smile.

Lucy Jackson, CEO of Spread a Smile said: “We are honoured and thrilled to have Suzi as a Spread a Smile ambassador. Her energy, kindness, and laughter reflect our charity spirit and our mission to bring a little bit of happiness and distraction to hospitalised children and their families every day. It’s an absolute pleasure to have Suzi in the Spread a Smile family.”

To stay up to date with the fundraising events we have coming up, you can keep an eye out on our news pages or sign up to our newsletter here.

Spreading smiles to children in Demelza Hospice

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We are thrilled to have partnered with the Demelza Hospice in London. The hospice provides specialist one-to-one care and support for critically ill babies, children, and young people up to the age of 18.

Our team will be visiting the children at Demelza Hospice in person every month and families will also have access to our range of virtual events as part of our new partnership. We hope our services will make a huge difference in supporting Demelza Hospice’s care of seriously ill children.

Spread a Smile’s resident entertainers, Jasmin and Daniel, visited the children for the first time this month, sprinkling a little bit of joy with dancing, singing, parachute games and magic shows.

Bethany Harris, Senior Healthcare Assistant at Demelza Hospice, said: “Since Spread a Smile started visiting, it feels as though we all have our sparkle back. Lockdown in a hospice has had its challenges, making memories with children and families at the forefront of what we do. It has been really lovely to have such incredible visits from Jasmin and Daniel after not having visitors for so long. They just know how to make the children feel special.”

We cannot wait to visit the children at Demelza Hospice again to spread more smiles.

We deliver 2,000 blankets to children in hospital

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In March, we partnered with Character World to gift 2,000 blankets to children in hospital. Character World, who work with some of the world’s leading gaming, music, and film companies to create licensed products, donated the blankets which we then delivered to children across the UK.

Featuring popular children’s characters including Baby Shark, Lego, Stranger Things, LOL OMG and Minecraft, the blankets have already started to bring smiles to faces of the children across the 23 Spread a Smile hospital partners, including Great Ormond Street Hospital, University College Hospital, Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, Leicester Children’s Hospital, Christie Hospital in Manchester, and many more.

We have distributed the blankets alongside our usual programme of in-hospital and virtual entertainment, which includes fairies, magicians, singers, face-painters, therapy dogs that make bedside visits, as well as organised art initiatives and family events.

This effort was part of our aim to spread 40,000 smiles this year.

Lucy Jackson, Chief Executive, Spread a Smile said: “These blankets make such a difference to our young patients, bringing smiles, warmth and comfort, making the hospital environment more child-friendly and less clinical. We can’t thank the team at Character World enough for making this possible. Our partners are so important to the work that we do in spreading some much needed joy at some of the darkest moments.”

Danny Schweiger, Character World Joint Managing Director added: “Character World is proud to support such an important and inspirational organisation. The work that Spread a Smile does is fantastic, and we are proud to have been able to donate some of our fantastic products.”

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