Posts By :

Susie

Smash Arts ‘Technicolour’ triumph

780 400 Susie

On the evening of Saturday 17 February, Smash Arts Theatre Company took to the stage at the Centenary Theatre, Berkhamsted School in aid of Spread a Smile for a very special performance of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.

However, this was no ordinary production, as the cast and crew only found out 24-hours before taking to the stage on Saturday night which musical they would be performing. With everyone finding out their roles and rehearsals starting at 7.30pm on Friday 16 February, the team embarked on the huge challenge of staging the show in 24 hours, with limited time to sleep and working solidly through the night and resulting in a magnificent and joy-filled performance of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

As audience member Karen Jordan said, “It really was truly amazing and the talent of all the boy/girls/men/women taking part was outstanding. Their personalities shone through and the way they interacted with the audience was brilliant and just showed how professional they all are. I could have watched it for another hour, two, three, four hours more… in fact I could have watched it all night long. It was brilliant!”

The Smash Arts team and cast raised an incredible £15,927.31 to support Spread a Smile’s work bringing joy and laughter to seriously ill children in NHS hospitals and hospices across the country, with Smash Arts Co-Founder Alex Williams saying, “This was a challenge we will not forget for a long time, an experience for the entire Smash family to support an incredible cause. And what a show it was! I think we can safely say many smiles were spread and many tears shed on Saturday night, but every minute of tiredness was worth it for the final outcome.”

Smash Arts Theatre company was formed in 2020 by co-founders Alex Williams and Dani Acors with Dani also being a regular member of the Spread a Smile team of entertainers, using her performing talents to spread smiles across Spread a Smile’s hospital and hospice partners.

Dani said, “This has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my entire life. Joseph is a very special show for me, so to combine that with working with an incredibly talented group of friends to create something so magical in such a short space of time for a charity so very close to my heart, is not only a privilege but an honour I will keep close with me forever.”

There was a magical atmosphere in the air as the evening unfolded, with the audience cheering and clapping at every opportunity and the performers obviously enjoying the experience as much as the audience, with everyone coming together for a standing ovation at the end and a final rendition of ‘Any Dream will Do.’

Lucy Jackson Spread a Smile Chief Executive said, “We are extremely grateful to everyone at Smash Arts Theatre Company – Dani, Alex, the cast, and crew – Berkhamsted School and everyone who bought tickets and supported this brilliant event for doing so much and helping to raise such an incredible amount for Spread a Smile. The show was an absolute triumph, and we feel proud to be the chosen charity for such an uplifting, positive, creative and empowering initiative.”

Thank you, Dani, Alex and everyone at Smash Arts Theatre Company.

Supporter Nick Stewart takes on Hyrox

780 400 Susie

Nick Stewart is a Climate Change & CFO Leader at Baringa Partners and joined the Spread a Smile Business Committee in 2023 to help explore new fundraising and awareness for the charity. We spoke to Nick about how he became involved with Spread a Smile and his Hyrox fundraising challenge which raised £3,000 to help spread smiles to the families we support.

“A good friend of mine, Mark London who sits on Spread a Smile’s Business Committee, first introduced me to the charity. I’d been working with Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) for a number of years and when I met Lucy Jackson, Spread a Smile’s Chief Executive, I realised the connection between the two charities, as Spread a Smile entertainers regularly visit GOSH to spread smiles across the wards.  I’ve seen firsthand the difference Spread a Smile’s entertainers make in hospital and the impact is huge. I was looking to give a bit more time to charities that I feel passionately about, and this felt like the perfect fit.

“I was delighted to join Spread a Smile’s Business Committee and really enjoyed my first meeting. We’re in the process of setting our plans and developing ways to support Spread a Smile and raise vital funds and awareness. It’s exciting to think of the difference we will help make. I’ve spent a lot of the last five years working in the environmental, social and governance (ESG) arena, so I’m hoping to bring a good network across the city to support our aims.

I also decided to fundraise for the charity and was already signed up to Hyrox, a global fitness race which is quite intense and designed to test your overall body strength and fitness. It’s a real challenge, so seemed perfect. I trained with a group of friends from my gym, Roam Athletics, and we all took part in Hyrox at the ExCel Centre, London back in November. It was the most excruciating and challenging activity I’ve done, both mentally and physically, but I really enjoyed it and I’m hoping to sign up again. I was delighted to raise £3,000 in total and am extremely grateful to all my friends and colleagues for supporting me. I was pleased to finish in one hour 22 as the World Record is  just under one hour.

“Alongside the fundraising, I also joined the team in December at the Spread a Smile office to help pack up their Christmas Hampers. It was great to meet the wider team and really get a feel for the work they are doing and the difference they are making. I’m so glad to be a part of that and am very much looking forward to next steps and what lies ahead for this brilliant charity.”

A huge thank you to Nick for his incredible commitment and support. If you are interested in finding out how you or your company can support Spread a Smile and help spread smiles to seriously ill children and their families, please get in touch by email today. We’ll look forward to hearing from you.

Mr Magic spreads smiles around the world

780 400 Susie

Spread a Smile’s entertainers do an incredible job, spreading laughter and joy to seriously ill children and their families in NHS hospitals and hospices and through our events and virtual visits.

One such entertainer is Mr Magic – one of the very first entertainers to join Co-Founders, Josephine Segal and Vanessa Crocker when they set up Spread a Smile over 10 years ago. Today Mr Magic remains a firm favourite amongst the families we support and is much loved as he spreads smiles across hospital wards and at Spread a Smile events.

“Jack loved Mr Magic and all the Spread a Smile magicians. The consistency of seeing them in different hospitals really helped him to cope with his illness and treatment. During Proton Beam Therapy, we stay away from home for over 6 weeks and feel really isolated. Our Spread a Smile visits helped us to meet other families and really gave us something to look forward to.” Jodie, Jack’s Mum

Recently, Spread a Smile filmed Mr Magic in action at one of their NHS hospital partners, performing some of his brilliant magic tricks for a young patient on the ward. After posting the film to the charity’s social media accounts to highlight the difference our entertainers make to the children they meet, the film went viral on Instagram, being viewed over 1.3million times and liked by over 115,000 accounts. The reaction of the child in the film speaks for itself, showing just how important Spread a Smile’s work is.

Spread a Smile currently supports 32 NHS hospitals and four hospices across the country, reaching thousands of children and their families every year. We also reach hundreds more through our virtual sessions and in-person family events, making sure our families have access to our services wherever they may be.  It is our mission to grow and reach even more hospitals and families, spreading smiles to seriously ill children and young people during some of the most difficult times of their lives.

To share in the Spread a Smile ‘Mr Magic magic’, you can watch the film here or below. Please do share as far and wide as possible and help us reach even more families when they need us most.

If you would like to make a donation to support our work, please follow this link. Just £26 could help pay for an entertainer like Mr Magic to visit a seriously child in hospital, spreading smiles and happiness.

To get involved, fundraise or find out how you or your company can support Spread a Smile, please email the team at fundraising@spreadasmile.org – we’d love to hear from you. You can also sign up to our e-newsletter to stay up-to-date with our work, fundraising activities.

Thank you so much for your support.

New partner – West Middlesex University Hospital

780 400 Susie

Spread a Smile today announces its latest hospital partner, West Middlesex University Hospital, part of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust which cares for people in west London, serving patients from London Boroughs of Hounslow, Richmond Upon Thames and Ealing.

Spread a Smile works closely with teams who treat seriously ill children and young people receiving treatment for a range of everyday to highly complex conditions and illnesses. These patients, along with their families are invited to join the Spread a Smile family and benefit from their services.

Spread a Smile’s mission is to bring joy and laughter to as many seriously ill children as possible in NHS hospitals, clinical settings, hospices and homes across the UK.  West Middlesex University Hospital joins 31 other major and speciality NHS hospitals and four hospice partners already supported by Spread a Smile, taking the charity one step closer to its aim.

The Spread a Smile team of talented entertainers, including musicians, artists, magicians and therapy dogs, will spend quality time with patients in hospital through monthly in-person visits. Patients and their families will also be able to access weekly virtual group activity sessions, including art clubs, magic, storytelling and more, enabling the charity to see and support as many people as possible. All with the aim of spreading hundreds of smiles and a lot of happiness to children undergoing treatment for serious illnesses and their families.

Children at West Middlesex University Hospital will also be able to join special themed virtual activity days celebrating seasonal occasions during school holidays and half-term, benefit from regular treat drops and enjoy entertainer visits scheduled throughout the year, all giving seriously ill children and their families the opportunity to join in with fun and exciting experiences that they may otherwise not have access to.

Simii Dhupar, Senior Health Play Specialist at West Middlesex University Hospital said, “Spread a Smile do such an amazing and fantastic job, bringing smiles to patients’ faces during their time in hospital. Whether it’s by visiting the wards to distract and entertain them, joining our patient parties to spread more joy, or providing online sessions so patients in isolation can still join in and don’t miss out. Spread a Smile’s support is amazing and the range of talented people who work hard in front of and behind the scenes just to make a child or young person smile is truly brilliant. We cannot thank them enough for all the joy and laughter they bring.”

Lucy Jackson, Spread a Smile Chief Executive added, “Spread a Smile is delighted to be working with West Middlesex University Hospital, their Play Team and wider ward teams to help bring moments of joy and distraction to seriously ill children and young people at the hospital. It is our privilege to help make a difference during some of the most difficult times for these families and are very much looking forward to doing what we can to spread smiles when they are needed most.” 

To find out more about Spread a Smile’s work spreading smiles to seriously ill children and their families across our NHS hospital and hospice partners, please click here.

Children’s Mental Health Week 2024

780 400 Susie

Today marks the start of Children’s Mental Health Week (5-11 February), which this year focuses on the theme that all children and young people, whoever they are, and wherever they are in the world, should be able to say – and believe – “My Voice Matters”.

At Spread a Smile, we focus directly on each young person we meet, making sure we take the time to find out what they need from us and how we can help improve their wellbeing. Through our face-to-face interactions, online sessions and family events, we provide very special opportunities for the children we support to be seen, heard and find a space for positive experiences and mental health.

Bailey is 17 years old and was diagnosed with leukaemia in May 2022. She told us “Hospital was really horrible, and I felt really down when I was going through my treatment. Spread a Smile’s visits made it so much more fun and they really gave me something to look forward to, taking my mind off what was happening. I have finished my chemotherapy now, but I still need to shield so I’ve started virtual guitar lessons with Spread a Smile, who have helped me get back into my music. It’s given me something to focus on and has given me back some of my confidence again.”

Each year we reach out to the families we support and the health professionals we work with to find out the impact of our services.*

  • 99% of parents and carers contacted said that our in-person and virtual visits improve their child’s mood and help to reduce anxiety.
  • 100% said that Spread a Smile helps them to feel heard.

“I can’t explain the difference the sessions made to Alyssa and her wellbeing, bringing her so much joy during such a difficult time. Alyssa was able to socialise, laugh, be herself and forget she was in hospital.”

Alyssa’s Mum, Kiona.

  • 100% of health professionals we spoke to said that our visits improved the emotional wellbeing and mental health of their patients.

Laura Walter, Spread a Smile Director of Services said, “We are proud that our work delivers meaningful and positive change to a child’s wellbeing, mental health and recovery process. We holistically support the whole family as we understand that parents, siblings and the wider family unit can be significantly affected by a child’s illness.”

Alongside our in-person and virtual visits, Spread a Smile’s online digital platform, Smile TV was developed during the Covid pandemic to enable us to continue to be there for our families during lockdown when our entertainers were not able to carry out face-to-face visits in hospital. It is packed full of sessions with our entertainers, arts and crafts activities, music, magic, helpful tutorials and much more. Being online, it can be accessed via our website at any time of the day, when distraction is most needed, from hospital or home.

Our most recent uploads include soothing pop songs, Disney songs and nursery rhymes aimed at finding space for positive mental health and moments of relaxation and calm, away from the pressures of illness and treatment.

*Stats taken from the Spread a Smile 2023 Impact Report which you can read in full here.

Royal Parks Half Marathon places

780 400 Susie

Don’t miss out on your chance to snap up a place on Team Smile for the Royal Parks Half Marathon on Sunday 13 October.

Last year 67 runners joined us to take on the beautiful 13.1-mile course on closed roads and within four of London’s eight Royal Parks – Hyde Park, The Green Park, St James’s Park and Kensington Gardens.

This was our largest team to date including some of our amazing supporters and fundraisers from the Corinthia Hotel, Mishcon de Reya, Hamilton Court Foreign Exchange, Downing LLP, Blackrock and Convex Insurance.

“What an incredible day to be part of. I loved every second of it and running in aid of Spread a Smile made it all the more special. It was an emotional endurance text which I would 100% do all over again.” Natalie Donaldson, Spread a Smile supporter

This year, we’re excited to be returning to this brilliant event and hope that our supporters will get in touch to be part of something really special.

Please email Rimi at rimi@spreadasmile.org to find out more and sign up today. Every penny raised will go towards our work spreading smiles to seriously ill children and their families up and down the country.

Event date: Sunday 13 October 2024

Minimum sponsorship: £500 (excluding Gift Aid)

Registration fee: £30

Course: London / closed roads. Gentle undulations but generally flat course, making it fantastic for both beginners and experienced runners.

Our first ever Padel Tournament

780 400 Susie

For 2024, we’re delighted to introduce a new fundraising event to our events calendar – our inaugural Padel Tournament at Stratford Padel Club, London on Thursday 18 April.

Padel is a mix between tennis and squash and usually played in doubles on an enclosed court one third the size of a tennis court. The sport is known for combining action with fun and social interaction, it’s easy to pick up and suitable for players of all ages and skills to join in together.

Padel is gaining huge popularity across the UK (and the world) and we’re delighted to be able to bring supporters together to explore this exciting game at the UK’s largest padel club. Last year our friends at Blackrock (pictured), supported Spread a Smile by hosting their very own Padel Tournament to raise vital funds to help spread smiles.

So what are you waiting for? Email Rosie today or click here to find out more about taking one of our doubles places and to discover our exciting sponsorship opportunities. With your support, we can ensure we are there to spread smiles to seriously ill children and their families when they need us most.

Also keep up to date with our latest news and activities via our e-newsletter or on socials @spreadasmileuk

Meet our Father Christmas

780 400 Susie

(Disclaimer: This news story should not be shared with True Believers).

Spread a Smile’s Father Christmas goes by the name of Aaron Spendelow when he is not busy at the North Pole. Alongside his festive activities, he has been an entertainer with Spread a Smile since 2020, bringing his talents as a storyteller to support our work spreading smiles to seriously ill children and young people and their families. For the past couple of years, he has joined Spread a Smile as Father Christmas in our Christmas Grotto, helping to deliver hundreds of virtual Santa visits to the families we support.

We chatted to the Big Man himself about his work with Spread a Smile and the joys of being Santa. Here’s what he had to say…

Ho, Ho, Ho Hello! It’s January and I am having break after a super busy and festive Christmas. This year I returned for a 2nd year to the wonderful Spread a Smile Christmas Grotto which this year was gingerbread themed, so I even had a cheeky gingerbread with my hot cocoa. Spread a smile is a wonderful charity that at Christmas time provides a very special and unique experience for children who need some cheering up. The children are welcomed to the virtual Grotto with a delightful animation, journeying across the North Pole, before one of our elves greets them and introduces the children to me. I’m joined by some of the wonderful Spread a Smile entertainers with singing, magic, and of course a jolly sing a long”

“When it’s not Christmas time, I go by the name of Aaron and have over 20 years’ experience in the world of children’s entertainment, having founded ‘A Children’s Story’, which creates storytelling experiences including live performance productions for the stage, festivals for an education setting, or immersive and interactive entertainment experiences.

“I am passionate about connecting young people to theatre, storytelling and the arts and often create theatre and performances for this audience. I previously toured a puppet performance to hospitals around the UK so it was inevitable that I would hear about the incredible work of Spread a Smile. I met with the team as well as the charity’s amazing Co-Founders, who are super lovely and incredibly supportive both within the charity but also personally. The whole Spread a Smile family is inclusive, kind and entertaining and as soon as I met them, I was an instant supporter and champion for the charity. Being their Father Christmas is a very special and magical experience and a love sharing his rich voice and kind, warm heart.

“I really enjoy meeting and enabling children and young people to have a moment of escapism at Christmas. Giving them a moment to speak about their Christmas list, what to leave Santa and Rudolph is very special and I love how accessible the experience is for the children supported by Spread a Smile, whether they are isolated in a hospital room, or right up in the North of the country.

“The visits to Spread a Smile’s virtual Christmas Grotto provide a special experience that the whole family to join in with. Often families will have them filmed too for future memories. Children who aren’t able to visit a Grotto in person still get to have an interactive, entertaining and magical experience. The excitement and smiles are amazing and one of the main reasons I love the initiative. You can see how special it all is. I will definitely return this year for more magic and Christmas cheer.”

In our 2023 virtual Christmas Grotto, Santa and his Spread a Smile elves met over 320 children and young people, helping to spread some festive cheer and wonder. Please do get in touch to find out more about our work and how you can get involved to support brilliant activities like this. Thank you.

Our new Director of Strategy and Operations

780 400 Susie

We are delighted to welcome Roxane Caplan to the Spread a Smile family as our new Director of Strategy and Operations. Roxane will be working closely with our Chief Executive and Director of Services to drive the charity’s strategic growth plans, whilst ensuring we maintain our high level of service and reach as many seriously ill children and young people across the country as possible. 

Roxane joins us with over 20 years’ work experience gained in both private and voluntary sectors, spanning marketing and fundraising, campaigns and communications, operations, service development and delivery, strategy and change management and senior leadership. Her last few roles have focused on helping small to medium sized charities grow, developing new organisational strategies with service users at the core, growing reach and impact. Most recently, Roxane’s role as Head of Services for the charity YoungMinds saw her transform their service structure, practice, and processes, enabling greater reach and growth.

Roxane said, “I am passionate about supporting children and their families and feel privileged to work for a charity that is dedicated to supporting seriously ill children and young people, either during hospital stays or at home through its range of brilliant services.  

“During my first week at Spread a Smile, I was lucky enough to be able to join a visit to Great Ormond Street Hospital with charity Co-Founder Josephine Segal, and magician Paul. I witnessed the joy their work brought to a diverse range of children, some as young as 18 months, facilitating socialisation and connection, creating happy moments and memories with their families. Within minutes of meeting our team, I saw children smile and relax despite the obvious pain and challenging circumstances they find themselves in. I could see the obvious difference Spread a Smile was making, improving wellbeing and self-esteem and making hospital stays less isolating and frightening.

“I am very much looking forward to working with the brilliant Spread a Smile team to see how we can do even more to help and support when and where we are needed most.” 

Lucy Jackson, Spread a Smile Chief Executive said, “The demand for Spread a Smile’s services is forever growing and it is our aim to be there for as many families who need us as possible. We are delighted that Roxane has joined us to help us do just that and to ensure that we continue to grow, achieve and succeed, fulfilling our charitable aims to the highest possible standard.”

Welcome to the Spread a Smile family Roxane.

Join our team! Spread a Smile is also currently recruiting for a Community Fundraising Manager and a Trusts Fundraising Manager.

If you are a professional entertainer and interested in joining our team, please click here for further information on the role and our online application form. We would love to hear from you!

Our amazing 2024 Winter Party

780 400 Susie

On Saturday 13 January we held our Winter Party at St Mary’s Marylebone London.

It was an incredible day which saw us welcome over 320 of the children and young people we support including their families and some of our colleagues from our NHS hospital partners. Due to the Covid pandemic, it was the first time we’d held a winter party since 2019. 

CREDIT: Suzan Moore

Held over two floors, this very special family event was packed full of different stalls and activities for our VIP guests to enjoy, run by the Spread a Smile team and over 60 brilliant volunteers.  There was something for everyone including gingerbread house making, a sweet stall, nail art, face painting, play doh, glitter tattoos, friendship bracelet making, teddy bear t-shirt and tote bag decorating, storytelling and pizza making.

“The Spread a Smile Winter Party was awesome. So many great activities for the kids to do and everyone volunteering was so kind. Hugo loved the play doh table and spent ages on the gingerbread house table too. Thank you so much for a fantastic day of treats and such a magical day. Hugo will be talking about this day for a long, long time.” Morgan, Hugo’s Mum

We were joined by All About Anna’s Animals who brought along some gorgeous animals to hold and learn more about. Our friends from the LEGO Group were on hand with a table full of LEGO® for everyone to get creative building and playing games and there was storytelling in the beautiful snow dome from The UK Dome Company. Guests also enjoyed fun on our bumper cars, a VR experience  from Bryght Ltd, a Silent Disco thanks to Silent Event, fancy dress and keepsake photos from Polabooth UK, plus a truly slimy slime making experience with Slime Planet.

CREDIT: Suzan Moore

Our brilliant team of Spread a Smile entertainers joined us to fill the day with music, singing, dancing, bubbles, magic, poetry and much more.

We were treated to a very special interactive performance from Embracing Arts, who put on a fantastic interactive theatre show and our very own Anna from Frozen welcomed children to the stage for a dance and a sing-a-long. Plus our Therapy Dogs Thomas and Harry loved meeting guests. 

To keep everyone going, we put on food and treats galore, including Sushi rolls from SushiDog, delicious pizzas from Pizza Pilgrims and yummy cupcakes from our friends at Lola’s Cupcakes and Brigit’s Bakery. We also made sure parents and carers were given a special self-care moment with hand massages, aromatherapy and a team of hairdressers.

We are extremely proud to deliver days such as this for the families we support and it was lovely to see so many of them relaxing and meeting the team and other families. We were also delighted to welcome our Ambassador Suzi Ruffell and our Trustees to share in the magic of this very special day.

CREDIT: Suzan Moore

We can’t thank our wonderful volunteers enough for giving up their time to make the day possible, plus all of our generous corporate supporters who donated supplies, food and drink. Thank you to our friends from BlackRock, Bregal Milestone, Brigit’s Bakery, Hasbro, C. Hoare & Co, the LEGO Group, LMAC Group, Lola’s Cupcakes, Opticore, Rotary Club, Sidekick Management and McVities, for their generous support of this event. In particular to Children with Cancer UK and the Children’s Welfare and Research Foundation whose support made the event possible. 

Thank you to all of our friends, families and colleagues for joining us and making our Winter Party 2024 one to remember. Watch this space for details of our Summer Party.

To help ensure we can continue to spread smiles to seriously ill children and young people, please donate here. Thank you.

If you would like to find out about attending our family events in the future, please register for our services and sign up to receive our Family Newsletter here.

Photos Credit: Suzan Moore