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The Lion King and Aladdin

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On 27 and 28 September, we took 32 families to not one, but two wonderful West End shows!

It was a real privilege to take some of the brave children we visit in hospital on a VIP day out. Kids and teenagers from 2-17 years old and their families went to see Disney’s The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre and Disney’s Aladdin at the Prince Edward Theatre. 

We also took 46 people to see Annie on 7 October, you can read more about that show here. 

For the Lion King and Aladdin trips, we invited the families to a party before the shows, during which our special entertainers kept everyone smiling and laughing with magic, balloons, face painting and fairy dust.

Jane Goddard, mother to 8-year-old Oliver who we visit at GOSH, said of their trip to Aladdin: I want to say a huge thank you to everyone involved in our theatre trip yesterday. You didn’t just spread a smile, you created memories for us all, allowed us to spend quality family time together and let us forget about hospitals and the medical ‘journey’ we are going on. Oliver has had a tough life medically and we’ve all had a tough time since his transplant in April. So to be able to enjoy a treat yesterday and enjoy each other’s company was amazing. Oliver said he had the best day of his life and meeting some of the cast afterwards really was the icing on the cake.”

Anna Austin, who went with 2-year-old daughter Isla and her siblings Finn and Lottie to see The Lion King, said of the day: “My three children were completely mesmerised by the show, stunned into silence, and meeting the cast was the most fantastic end to the day. Isla has been treated for Neuroblastoma for a year now at GOSH; she has obviously been incredibly ill and the impact it’s had on Finn and Lottie cannot be underestimated. For all three children to be included made it so special and such a wonderful treat.”

We visit 4-year-old Milla on Lion, an oncology ward, at GOSH; she went with her family to see The Lion King. Her mum, Tara Hutton, said, “Thank you all so much for inviting us today; we had a wonderful time. You must have worked so hard to plan such a brilliant event: it was such a lovely atmosphere from the moment we arrived. Milla said it was ‘brilliant’ (which is high praise indeed) and Lorcan cried on the way home because he didn’t want to go to ‘boring home’. I could have cried seeing both of them, and all the other children, so happy.  Thank you.”

Lauren Dyer, mum to 6-year-old Elsa who we visit at GOSH, said of The Lion King: “It had me in tears – happy ones! I have not seen my daughter Elsa that happy for a long time! On the way home both Elsa and Ollie said ‘that was the best day’… Thank you so much for a day my children will remember forever.” 

Siobhan Cunningham, who went to see The Lion King with her family, said, “After a most draining and difficult few months for Finan, it felt wonderful to go out as a family again. You and all your colleagues looked after us all so well and the entire day was magical for the children. Finan was mesmerised by the show, the kaleidoscope of colour, animals and movement. His face lit up as he saw all his favourite animals making their way to the stage.

“Afterwards, his sister Aibhilin said that the best thing about the day was that the siblings were treated the same and felt just as special as the sick children. I’m afraid that no matter how hard you try as a parent, the siblings of oncology children often feel neglected. She was tickled pink by Timon and Pumba’s Riverdance sketch as before Finan’s illness she had been an Irish dancer and that is also how my husband and I met so many years ago when we were both much younger, fitter and much much slimmer! All three children have gone to bed clutching their gift bags and programmes, and the event was the subject of their ‘show and tell’ the following day.

“The entire event was so uplifting after such a thoroughly depressing couple of months that I cannot thank you, Spread a Smile, all of your colleagues and the cast and crew of ‘The Lion King’ enough. I was quite overcome several times on the day and still feel quite emotional about it now. Thank you for including Finan’s siblings and for all the great work you do. Thank you so very much.”

After both shows, the casts came out in costume to meet our guests, and the reaction of the children and their families was overwhelming. Everyone loved chatting and taking smiling selfies with the actors. The afternoon was topped off with goody bags for the kids to enjoy on their way home.

A big thank you to Disney, especially to Simon Vickers and his team including Lisa and Gemma; thanks to the amazing ATG staff at the Lyceum Theatre and Delfont Mackintosh staff at the Prince Edward Theatre who looked after us so well and also to the theatres for their kind gift of show programmes and interval ice creams; thanks to Lola’s Cupcakes for the yummy treats; and we are grateful to our wonderful Spread a Smile entertainers and volunteers who kept our guests smiling throughout the afternoon.

 

Annie Theatre Trip

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Annie at The Piccadilly Theatre

Spread a Smile took 11 families, a total of 46 guests, to see ‘Annie’ at the Piccadilly Theatre on Saturday 7th October.

It was a wonderful day out: the show was truly spectacular, with amazing performances particularly by the youngsters in the cast. Our guests enjoyed lunch before the show, ice creams during the interval, and then – the icing on the cake – they got to meet the actors playing Daddy Warbucks and Miss Hannigan!

Debbie Holmes, a 13-year-old who is being treated for Ewing’s Sarcoma at UCLH, went with her mum Cheryl. Cheryl said of the afternoon, “It was amazing. The best show we’ve seen so far! Debbie was thrilled. She particularly enjoyed meeting the actors who played Daddy Warbucks and Miss Hannigan after the show. Thank you – you really spoiled us!”

 

Andrea Hanbury, mum of 6-year-old Keeva who we visit on Lion ward at GOSH, said, “It was so lovely seeing the girls’ eyes twinkle! It was a beautiful show – they enjoyed it thoroughly.”  The whole family were invited so Keeva could share the experience with her three sisters. Roisin, Keeva’s sister who loves drama, said she found the young actress playing Annie “really inspiring” and was telling everyone about the show at her drama class the next day!

Twelve year old Amy Foster, who we visit at UCLH where she is receiving chemotherapy, was sadly too ill to see ‘Annie’, but we invited her mum Kathy and her sister Freya to the show. Kathy said, It was really fantastic. Amy was sadly too ill to go to the theatre on this occasion, but to be able to spend an afternoon with just me and Freya was really special. It isn’t something we get to do very often. ‘Annie’ is Freya’s favourite film so she had the best time. We were so well taken care of by Spread a Smile, from arriving, lunch, ice creams at the interval, meeting the actors afterwards, and goody bags to go home with, it was amazing. We love the theatre but with Amy so ill, we don’t often go as you don’t dare book tickets just in case you have to cancel last minute. Spread a Smile is just one of the best charities!”

We are aware how difficult it is for parents to spend special time with the siblings of seriously ill children, as their schedules are too frequently dominated by hospital treatment. By inviting siblings and parents on the trips we provide the chance for the whole family to experience a joyful occasion together, find a moment of respite and create enduring memories.

Thank you to the wonderful cast of Annie, the staff at Piccadilly Theatre, Ashley Herman of Encore Tickets and our volunteers. What a wonderful afternoon!

Honey & Co Cookery Demo

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Honey & Co cookery demonstration

Join the amazing husband and wife team Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer, creative chefs and founders of Honey & Co and Honey & Smoke, for a cooking demonstration.

 

Sarit and Itamar are known for their mouth-watering food from the Middle East. Get insider cooking tips to wow your dinner party guests and enjoy sampling the dishes afterwards!

 

Sarit said of their last fundraising brunch for Spread a Smile: “It was our pleasure to entertain Spread a Smile’s supporters with a cookery demonstration. UCH is around the corner from our restaurant and we know that Spread a Smile visit there regularly and provide much needed entertainment for children and young people.”

Bedford Half Marathon Duo

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Bedford Half Marathon Duo

The indomitable Andrew Arnold, who works for our corporate supporters Lawsons, and his wife Carla, ran the Bedford Half Marathon in aid of Spread a Smile on 2nd September.

The race took place in Priory Park, Bedford and is the first part of a challenge Andrew ‘Arnie’ Arnold has taken on to raise money for us. The sun was shining for the race and Arnie said the day was a “fantastic experience”. Well done to him and Carla who completed the 13.1 miles in 1hr 57mins and 2hr 28mins respectively; Arnie even battling through a slight rib injury!

They have raised over £500 for Spread a Smile and Arnie is already back in training for a full Marathon in Milton Keynes on May 7th next year.

Thank you so much, Arnie and Carla, for your sweat and determination! Your fundraising will put smiles on many children’s faces.

Hair shaving fundraising

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Hair-shaving fundraising!

Robert Saint, the manager of the Edmonton branch of Lawsons, our corporate supporters, chose to raise money for Spread a Smile by shaving his hair off. He ran the Royal Parks Half Marathon for us last year and was inspired to find a new way to fundraise for us this summer.

His wife did the shearing, but his children were keen to lend a hand so they experimented with the clippers as well. Rob told us that having a shorn head “felt weird at first, but I’ve now got used to it and like it, so it’s staying off. In one haircut I have gone from Ian Beale to Jason Statham.” We’re sure you’ll agree that his new style really suits him!

Thank you so much Rob for your hair-raising enthusiasm that has raised a wonderful £100 for Spread a Smile.

 

What the Ladybird Heard

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Spread a Smile took five families of children receiving treatment at GOSH and other London hospitals to see ‘What the Ladybird Heard’ at The Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue on 25th July.

The show, based on Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks’ popular children’s book, was full of live music, puppetry and lots of audience participation, which got our families laughing and cheering! Emma Carroll, who plays Lily and the Ladybird in the play, said “It was wonderful to perform on the day our friends from Spread a Smile came to see ‘What the Ladybird Heard’! The audience was fantastic, joining in with the animal noises and singing. Thanks for visiting the Ladybird farm!”

The twenty guests of Spread a Smile loved the production. Shushma Jain, guardian to Layla, a three-year-old girl we visit at GOSH, said: “A big thank you to Spread a Smile for today! We all enjoyed ourselves. It was good to switch off: Spread a Smile organising the transport really made the trip very easy; it took so much pressure off. The kids loved the show. When Layla is not well, my mum and I spend a lot of time at the hospital with her, and my father who is retired and deaf looks after our other long-term foster child, so it was a lovely break for all five of us! They loved their goody bags too. Thank you so much!”

Thank you to Kenny Wax Family Entertainment who donated the tickets.

200 miles for Amy

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An amazing team of cyclists from RBS Cash Operations based in Maidstone and led by Simon Foster, cycled 200 miles across Kent to raise money for Spread a Smile over a week at the end of June.

Simon and his colleagues, Jon Barnes, Scott Howie, Mario Fenech and Simon Cawse, chose to support us as Simon’s 12-year-old daughter, Amy Foster, has been visited by our entertainers during her treatment for Osteosarcoma at UCLH this year.

Amy developed a severe pain in her knee earlier in 2017, and was diagnosed as having a cancerous tumour in her femur. She is receiving chemotherapy at UCLH as well as having an operation to remove part of her femur, which will be replaced by a bionic prothesis.

When her dad asked Amy which charity his cycling team should support with their epic challenge she nominated Spread a Smile. She says, “I love Spread a Smile visits as I like being active and hospital treatment is sooooo boring! I love the fairies as they are just fun and they smile so much. It really cheers me up. The magician, though, is my favourite as I couldn’t work out how he did his tricks!”

Sarah Quigley from RBS wrote on their JustGiving page: “Hospitals are scary places at the best of times and whilst Amy has been visiting the hospital this fantastic charity have been there to take her mind off things as much as possible. Simon has seen first-hand the incredible work that this charity does in bringing a smile to a sick child’s face through the toughest of times.”

Thank you so much to Simon, Jon, Scott, Mario and Simon for their fabulous team effort which has raised an astonishing £2,866, more than five times their target! And a big thank you also to Amy for nominating us!

There’s still time to donate – https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/maidstone-goes-the-extra-mile.

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Lawsons family fun day

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Spread a Smile joined our corporate supporters Lawsons at their Family Fun Day at the South of England Showground in Ardingly, West Sussex on 16th July.

The day was a grand day out, with over a thousand Lawsons employees and their families enjoying a funfair, pony trekking, music, food and a pamper area. Spread a Smile singer Collette Spinner compered the event, introducing bands onto the stage, as well as wowing the audience with some numbers of her own. Our face painters Marina Constantinou and Emma Antoniou decorated hundreds of faces over the course of the day, transforming the children into superheroes and animals, and even beautifying a few of the adults! Spread a Smile balloon modellers Bradley and Diana Bronson made over a thousand weird and wonderful inflated creations for the guests. And our very own Magic Martin Rees spent the day amazing the crowd with close-up magic.

Lawsons, the timber, building and fencing suppliers, have been invaluable supporters to Spread a Smile, helping to fund two of our Winter Wonderland Parties, the creation of our mascot Buddy, as well as innumerable hospital visits and special events for the children and their families throughout the last two years. Paul Sexton, Managing Director of Lawsons, wanted to support the charity after seeing us in action: “The slowest clock on the planet is a hospital clock. The biggest thing you can do for anybody that is ill is make them smile and create distractions which help control pain. These guys do it in spades. I have to say I have never ever witnessed something as special as the Spread a Smile team. They are truly, truly amazing at what they do.”

Lawsons held a raffle on the day, with proceeds going to Spread a Smile.

A huge thank you to Lawsons for their ongoing support for Spread a Smile; they really have helped us brighten so many days for the children and teenagers we visit in hospital.

Debbie gets muddy

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Debbie Holmes, a 13-year-old from East Malling in Kent, took part in the Pretty Muddy 5km race in Maidstone to raise money for Spread a Smile on Sunday 9th July.

Intrepid Debbie chose to undertake the challenge with a big group of her family and friends after experiencing Spread a Smile’s magic first-hand. We first met Debbie soon after she was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer, in April 2014 while she was receiving radiotherapy treatment at UCLH. We visited her with magicians, singers and our cuddly therapy dogs. We have also invited her to several special events outside of hospital: she has seen Disney’s The Lion King, a Diversity dance show and Take That in concert, as well as attending our annual festive party with her family and friends. She loved our visits so much she decided to raise money for Spread a Smile so we could visit more children and teenagers like her.

The 5 kilometre Pretty Muddy race involved a series of obstacles and a whole lot of mud! Debbie and her teammates scrambled over an A-frame, crawled through a mud pit, slithered through muddy tunnels and slid into a pool of mud. The race was a particular challenge for Debbie as she has an internal prothesis in her leg as part of her cancer treatment. Her mum, Cheryl, said she was amazed how Debbie managed to complete the entire course unaided. Debbie was tired by the end of the race but her team of fellow runners and cheerleaders got her through. The group included: Debbie Holmes, Ashleigh Holmes, Rachel Holmes, Katie Middleton, Christie Middleton, Sandra Ayoub, Mariam Ayoub, Ellie Conran, Jodie Conran, Millie Conran, Hannah Wheat, Gemma Wheat, Sophie Wheat, Holly Owen, Karen Owen, Gemma Crome, Claire Crome, Rachel Crome, Lucy Chapman, Chris Chapman, Angela Ward, Ilenia Ward, Alice Velvick, Cheryl Velvick, and even Debbie’s teacher Kathy Barry. They had a lot of fun on the day and got thoroughly muddy! The smiles in the pictures said it all.

We are so grateful to Debbie that she took the Pretty Muddy challenge for us. So far her team ‘Mud-erific Madness 2’ has raised an amazing £1,481 – almost three times their target!