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Susie

High Atlas Mountains Morocco

Mount Toubkal Trek 2023

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This tough but incredibly rewarding challenge combines the unforgettable scenery of the High Atlas Mountains with the splendour and colour of Marrakech. You will find yourself climbing and scrambling over the huge boulders and rocks of northern Africa’s tallest peak – Jebel Toubkal, standing at a whopping 4,167m.

It is an experience not to be missed and as part of the trek, you will…

  • Experience the unforgettable mountain scenery and spectacular views
  • Tackle daunting peaks dotted with Berber villages
  • Summit Jebel Toubkal, Morocco’s highest mountain
  • Push yourself mentally and physically at high altitude
  • Get lost in the colourful souks of mystical Marrakech

High Atlas Mountains Morocco“There is nothing more inspiring than the view from the high Atlas Mountains. It can make you believe if you can do this you can do anything.”

By joining our team of intrepid explorers and fundraising for us, you’ll be helping to bring joy and laughter to seriously ill children and young people during one of the most difficult times of their lives.

To secure one of our limited places or with any queries, please email Amanda to sign up today.

 

Event date: Tuesday 16th May – Sunday 21st May 2023

Minimum fundraising: £850

Expedition costs: £1,055 (Direct to Charity Challenge our trek Partners)

What’s included? International flights to and from the UK, accomodation, drinking water and 3 meals a day included, full back up support. Full details.

An itinerary and information around what to expect can be found here.

LEGO Masterclass

LEGO Masterclass

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We’ve been sparking creative imaginations in our first joint venture with the LEGO Group!

Last week we were delighted to welcome 11 patients and their families for a LEGO Masterclass as part of the LEGO Group’s ‘Build the Change’ program.

Build the Change encourages children to express their hopes and dreams for the future through LEGO® bricks and a bit of imagination. Following our theme of ‘Playful City’, the children created their own buildings and hospitals showing how they would brighten and develop the spaces around them.

It was such an engaging day providing a chance to relax, have fun and create through play. Spread a Smile’s Mr Magic was also on hand to spread even more smiles through magic!

A huge thank you to the LEGO Group for their support and time. Also to our friends Lolas Cupcakes for donating the tasty treats and to Dominoes pizza for their support.

Dr Alex George

Visit with Dr Alex George

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We were honoured to welcome Dr Alex George along to one of our visits to University College London Hospital last Friday, where he met patients and staff on the Oncology and general paediatric wards.

Dr Alex is an A&E and TV Doctor and a UK Youth Mental Health Ambassador within the Department of Education, known for his campaigning around mental health education.

Physical and mental health and wellbeing are both extremely important when battling and recovering from illness. Spread a Smile is dedicated to improving wellbeing and quality of life for the seriously ill children and young people we support.

Dr Alex spoke in depth with a number of patients, listening to their questions and sharing advice for managing the challenges they face.

Dr Alex George and StaffWe’re so grateful to Dr Alex for giving up his time to join us on the wards. Both patients and staff benefitted hugely from his presence and having the chance to talk, for which we can’t thank him enough.

“I loved meeting all the young people on the wards. I feel humbled by your stories. Your strength in the face of adversity is incredible. Big thanks to the team at Spread a Smile who visit the children and bring a moment of joy, even amongst the worry and sadness.” Dr Alex George

Spread a Smile Christmas Gifts

Christmas gifts needed

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Can you help Spread a Smile this Christmas? For the seriously ill children and young people we support, Christmas can be a difficult time, spent in hospital away from the comforts of home.

Each year Spread a Smile helps bring back the magic of Christmas. From our Santa’s Grotto, festive art sessions and the thousands of gifts we deliver to wards and homes, we spread joy at a time when a smile is needed most.

To do this, we need the support of generous businesses and individuals to donate gifts and treats for our gift packages. Last year we sent around 2,500 gifts out to our hospital partners. This year we are aiming for 3,000!

If your business can help, or you could put us in touch with one who might, please email the team at fundraising@spreadasmile.org We are looking for items suitable for children of all ages and need more than 4,000 small and medium sized gifts.

You can find inspiration for the type of gifts we need or even buy an individual gift for a child via our Amazon gift list. Examples are:

  • Baby toys
  • Sensory toys
  • Soft toys
  • Books
  • Paints
  • Puzzles
  • Games
  • Makeup
  • Toiletries (Teenagers)

A huge thank you to the individuals and companies who have donated gifts so far, including Acamar Films (BING Productions), Aurora World, Barry M, Big Potato Games, Bodil Jane, CASETiFY, Cheatwell Games, Derwent Art, Ginger Fox, Hasbro, Hunter Price International, IKEA Wembley, LUSH, MenKind, Moonpig, OTL Technologies, Over the Wall, Playmobil, Rainbow Designs, Spinmaster, Staedtler, Swizzels, The Fence Club and Wicked Uncle Toys.

We have lots planned this festive season to spread smiles far and wide, so please contact the team if you’d like to find out more about sponsoring any of our activities. Thank you.

Team Spread a Smile

Announcing four new hospital partners

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We are delighted to announce four new hospital partners, Barnet Hospital, Newham Hospital, Princess Alexandra Hospital and Watford General Hospital, bringing our total number of NHS partners to 25.

Our entertainers will be making monthly in-person visits to each of these hospitals and patients will also be invited to join our regular virtual visits and school holiday activities.

Their timing for joining the Spread a Smile family couldn’t be better as they are with us just in time to join our Christmas activities, including deliveries of Christmas gifts to all four sites.

At each hospital, we will be visiting patients on the inpatient wards and in outpatient departments including visiting patients during oncology clinics. Nurses and Play Specialists will also be able to request bespoke visits for children who are seriously unwell, allowing Spread a Smile to really make a difference when a child and their family most need a lift.

Helen Cripps, Play Specialist on Starfish Ward at Watford General Hospital said: “Spread a Smile has already had a huge impact to the Starfish Ward. Your lovely entertainers certainly cheer up all our patients and their families too and they are rays of sunshine! Their positivity really does rub off on all the patients they meet.

Spread a Smile artist Marina has painted an amazing mural in the Children’s Outpatients Department and has already started on a second mural. It makes the department so much more welcoming and cheerful. We love the Spread a Smile visits and look forward to them very much.”

Spread a Smile with Play Specialists

Celebrating Play Specialists

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Spread a Smile works with 25 hospital partners across the UK, supporting Play Specialist and paediatric care teams to bring joy to seriously ill children and young people in hospital.

As a thank you and in recognition of their amazing work, last month we welcomed 50 Play Specialists and other healthcare professionals to Riding House Cafe in Bloomsbury, London for a special get together.

The Spread a Smile team works closely every day with hospital play and care teams to try and make life a little bit easier for patients on the wards. Our days and visits are always busy, so it was fantastic to be able to bring people together outside of work to network, share experiences and celebrate the incredible work being carried out across our hospitals.

As Lizzie Penn, Senior Play Specialist from Great Ormond Street Hospital said: “I was delighted to join the amazing Spread a Smile team for the opportunity to meet colleagues and Play Specialsts doing similar jobs in other hospitals. It was great to find ourselves in a relaxed, social setting, able to talk face-to-face about our day-to-day experiences.

“We are genuinely grateful to Spread a Smile for adapting their services to meet the needs of our patients and always responding and supporting us in such a positive way. Last night really brought home how we are part of a brilliant wider team which brings joy to the young people, during some of the most challenging of times.”

A Play Specialist’s role in hospital is a vital one and we work closely with them to facilitate their aims. Through play we help children to achieve developmental goals, master and cope with anxieties and feelings and prepare for hospital procedures. We also provide immeasurable support and joy to families and siblings.

Thank you to all of the play and healthcare specialists we work with for everything they do to support seriously ill children. We are proud to work with you.

Spread a Smile Sensory Boxes

Spread a Smile sensory boxes

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Earlier this year Spread a Smile received a very generous donation from The Toy Trust to enable our work providing specialised play sessions and activities for children with a disability or sensory impairment.

This has enabled us to develop a new and exciting area of work, creating and supplying special sensory boxes for children on Paediatric Intensive Care Units in the hospitals we support.

Our sensory boxes aim to provide relief and comfort for children in intensive care at one of the most difficult times of their lives and when their sensory engagement with the world around them has been severely reduced. The boxes contain all sorts of soothing and engaging toys including projection lamps, musical shakers and frog massagers. We are also grateful for a generous donation from Tonies of their Tonieboxes – amazing screen-free audio systems which play stories and music.

All of the toys are designed to help with sensory stimulation and gentle play. Importantly, they serve to distract the child and block out the sounds of the medical machines that surround them.

Over the coming weeks, we will be delivering 12 sensory boxes into six Paediatric Intensive Care Units, with three already having been delivered already to the team at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Thank you to The Toy Trust for their amazing support and making these sensory boxes a reality.

Royal Parks Half Marathon

October fundraising focus

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October saw some brilliant fundraising initiatives and activities which went the extra mile to raise vital funds for Spread a Smile.

Our Chief Executive Lucy Jackson along with friends Caroline Kleinman, Melanie Wynne and Lauren Ornstein took on the Three Peaks Challenge in October, walking 23 miles, climbing 3400m in just 24 hours.

The weather was against them all weekend, with pouring rain, snow showers, high winds and even a hail-storm. But that didn’t stop them and they climbed the UK’s three highest peaks, Ben Nevis, Snowdon and Scafell Pike managing to raise an incredible £9,600 in the process.

 

A brilliant team of 19 runners took part in the Royal Parks Half Marathon, running 13.1 miles and raising £11,000 between them. This included a group representing ‘Team Keeva’ who have taken on a few fundraising challenges for Spread a Smile because of the support we’ve given to Keeva, one of the runner’s daughters.

“When Keeva was first diagnosed, it felt like the pits of hell. Then Spread a Smile came along, and they were so jolly and welcoming and lovely, it gave us an uplift that we needed. They are a family you join, and it becomes part of your journey. Spread a Smile was a breath of fresh air. They brought fun and sparkles and balloons. For Keeva it was her one thing during the week that she looked forward to the most.”

Shout out to Team Keeva: Thomas, Brian, Damian, David, Ed, Michael, Nicola, Nick, Paul, Stephen and our other runners Benji, Emma, James, Josh, Natasha, Ricky, Sherri, Tom and Will.

Also, a special mention to Audrey Godfrey who raised just over £1,000 for Spread a Smile as part of her 80th birthday celebrations and Mergen Dorjnamjil who ran the TCS London Marathon in support of the charity.

A huge thank you to everyone who has fundraised for us recently. If you would like to take up the fundraising challenge, we’d love to hear from you. Please email the team to find out about our upcoming challenges or how we can support you with your own initiatives.

Thomas the Therapy Dog

Meet Thomas the Therapy Dog

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Meet Thomas, one of our Therapy Dogs and his owner, Spread a Smile Visit Manager Olivia Leich.

Thomas is an 8-year-old miniature Australian Labradoodle – a breed known to be wonderfully calm companions. We spoke to Olivia about Thomas, how he became a Therapy Dog and the important role he plays during their hospital visits.

“Thomas is such a lovely dog – peaceful, calm and a real comfort. When a colleague suggested that Thomas might make a brilliant Therapy Dog for Spread a Smile, I thought it would be perfect for him.

Olivia and Thomas

He had an interview with a ‘Pets As Therapy’ Dog Assessor to check his suitability – things such as whether he jumped up at people, barked, was friendly and calm around children and how he reacted to sudden movements and loud noises. Needless to say he passed with flying colours and since February this year, he’s been joining me for three shifts a week visiting hospitals.

Thomas’ role is to bring happiness, spread smiles and distract away from the hardships of life in hospital. He is a natural, immediately putting people at ease. From the moment I clip on his Spread a Smile bandana, he is so excited to get going, waiting by the door for us to leave.

As soon as we enter the hospital Thomas takes his role very seriously and really enjoys visiting the children on the wards. Everyone has the opportunity to open his treat box and give him a treat, but first they have to ask him for a high five and a fist pump before he is rewarded. He never fails and always takes the treat as if it’s the first one he’s ever had!

Thomas is very caring and proud of what he does. He can sense if a child is really unwell and bed bound and needs him to be calm and still. He will let me gently place him on the bed close to them, where he will lie calmly so that the child can stroke him or brush his fur.

During a typical week, Thomas might meet between 10 – 30 patients across various paediatric wards ranging from intensive care to rehabilitation clinics, outpatients, A&E and long term stay wards.

Quite simply, Thomas is an integral part of the team, bringing another level of joy and this joy is felt not just by the patients but also by their families and staff on the wards. I couldn’t imagine doing my job without him. Seeing the happiness he brings to the wards is incredible. He brings a sense of calm, fun and love which is immeasurable.”

Play in Hospital Week - King's College Hospital

A record-breaking Play in Hospital Week

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Play in Hospital Week (PIHW) is a special week which aims to raise awareness of the benefits of play in the treatment of poorly children, this year with a theme of ‘Play for resilience and good mental health’.

Spread a Smile celebrated PIHW in style setting ourselves the target of doing more than ever before in one week. And what a record-breaking week it was!

  • We carried out a record number of visits – a whopping 17 in total to 14 hospitals;
  • We visited 3 new hospitals: Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Newham University Hospital and Princess Alexandra Hospital; and
  • We spread smiles to over 400 children and young people, helping to make their time in hospital a little bit easier.

Play is an essential part of childhood and is at the very heart of mental, social and emotional growth and well-being. It is important that play continues to be part of a child’s life, even when they are admitted to hospital – a time when they are at their most vulnerable.

Spread a Smile Entertainers and staff work closely with and support Play Specialists and Play Workers in 21 Hospitals and 2 Hospices across the UK, providing a wide variety of entertainment and play activities for seriously and terminally ill children and young people. Our aim is to help distract, relieve fear and stress and create a safe, welcoming environment during treatment.

Our work can make a huge difference: “You have helped our daughter on her hardest days not only with her medical issues but with her mental issues too. I feel as a family we can never repay you all enough for your kindness you show to her.”

We are so proud of our achievements for PIHW 2022 and would like to say a huge thank you to our Spread a Smile Entertainers, the hospital play teams and all of the companies that have helped make it so special.

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