News

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/

 

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: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/arctickayak

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.

Inspiring contemporary art tours

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We are so proud to work with the wonderful Karen Smith, who has been conducting contemporary art tours around London, with all proceeds raised going to Spread a Smile.

As an art history graduate and supporter of many London and UK contemporary art institutions, she has a deep and passionate knowledge of the UK contemporary art scene. She uses this knowledge to conduct bi-monthly tours, to discover the most interesting artists, gallery shows, institutions and private collections, all across London from Deptford to Camden.

Upcoming trips this year include an amazing opportunity on the 18th of October to visit the Frieze Sculpture exhibition in Regents Park, the exclusive Cranford private Collection (led by the collectors, Freddy and Muriel Salem themselves), and see highlights at the Fitzrovia gallery.

Also, on the 16th of November, Karen is leading a tour of the Bermondsey Galleries and a private collection focusing on contemporary women artists.

One of recent participants of one of her tours said, ‘You have opened my eyes to a part of London which I hardly knew existed, and has been be a great addition to the joys which our city has to offer.’

There is a suggested donation of a £100, with all the proceeds going to Spread a Smile, and you can donate via this link: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Karen-Smith243?utm_source=Sharethis&utm_medium=fundraising&utm_content=Karen-Smith243&utm_campaign=pfp-email&utm_term=

You can also contact her directly at karen@romneys.net if you are interested in attending any of the upcoming tours, or if you want to receive information about the other tours this year!

Our magical new ambassador – Richard Jones

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We’re over the moon to announce that Britain’s Got Talent winner, Lance Corporal Richard Jones is now a Spread a Smile ambassador. The only magician to ever win Britain’s Got Talent, he regularly performs for royals and celebrities, at parties and theatres around the world. He’s now bringing his spellbinding magic into hospitals to bring a smile to critically-ill children and young people.

On becoming a Spread a Smile ambassador, Richard said, “My experience performing in hospitals with Spread a Smile are among my most cherished memories so far, seeing how big an impact it makes on individuals is truly magical. I’ve joined the roster of entertainers which include fairies, artists and singers, amongst others, and every single incredible performer creates such a positive experience during what is no doubt a scary time in the children’s lives. The most noble art is of course making others smile, and the inspiringly brave children I have met during visits always put a big smile onto my face too. To be chosen as an ambassador is such an honour.”

Lucy Jackson, CEO at Spread a Smile said: “It’s incredible to watch children’s reactions to meeting Richard and seeing him perform. Some of them are huge fans already so not only are they getting to see a Spread a Smile magician in hospital but they are also getting to meet a real hero of theirs. We are so delighted and honoured that Richard has become an official Spread a Smile Ambassador and we are looking forward to working more closely with him and can’t wait to introduce him to more children across our hospital network in the future.”

RideLondon 2022 – Meet our team!

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On Sunday 29 May, 11 wonderful riders took part in RideLondon in aid of Spread a Smile! The annual 100-mile bike ride around London and Essex involved over 15,000 participants. The funds raised by our Smile Heroes will help us to support seriously ill children in hospital.

The riders were: Jimmy Tsekoyras, Pagnagiotis Tsekoyras, Laurence Kidd, James Jacobs, Guy Shaul, Zack Case, Karo Bonas, Adam Diamant, Anthony Gubba, Alain Stechler and Dave Farrell.

One of our riders, Laurence Kidd, was inspired to ride following the support we gave his niece, Maisie. Maisie was born nine weeks prematurely and spent the first weeks of her life in SCU after it transpired she had suffered two significant brain haemorrhages. She unfortunately still suffers from many further health issues, including cerebral palsy, epilepsy and blindness. Now aged 18, she has spent a significant amount of her life in hospital.

We first met Maisie and her family during lockdown in 2020, and Laurence described the work we did as invaluable. As Maisie and her family lost their social life during lockdown restrictions and shielding, we were able to provide some normality and joy to their lives.

Not only did we support Maisie, we also helped her sister Poppy to engage with others, as she had to start home-schooling to protect her shielding sister.

Just before the race, Laurence said, ‘Doing events such as RideLondon is my way of repaying Spread a Smile for the work they have done to support my family over the pandemic. I do have quite a bit of cycling experience and previously completed the 50-mile ride. While this is the longest ride I will have done, I feel confident and ready. Most of all, I’m so excited to see my wife and son at the finish line on Tower Bridge, which is where I proposed!’

After the event, Laurence said he was sore but had an amazing day! He completed the 100-mile course in 6 hours and 23 minutes, which is a great achievement.

You can still donate to Laurence’s JustGiving page here.

Huge thanks from all of us at Spread a Smile to our team of cyclists for all the training and efforts on the big day; we are incredibly grateful.

Tea-time! Our new partnership with Mildreds

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We’re delighted to have partnered with Midreds Restaurants, a gorgeous group of plant-based restaurants! We had our first Spread a Smile tea party at their Covent Garden location last month, where the team at the restaurant put on a fantastic spread, including cheese toasties, fruit, brownies, cookies and cheesecakes!

We also brought four families to the Covent Garden restaurant this week, where the children were entertained by the wonderful Mr Magic. Jordan the manager of Mildred’s Covent Garden made this visit extra special by allowing the children to pick their own juices and watch them being made, which caused much excitement.

It was lovely to be able to bring critically ill children and young people to the tea party with their loved ones, to experience a proper afternoon tea.

They have locations in Soho, Camden, Kings Cross, Dalston, Covent Garden and Borough, so we hope that this partnership will be an opportunity for families to take a break for a couple of hours away from the hospital, across many of our partner facilities in London.

Aside from our tea party, Mildreds were also kind enough to provide Brownies for our trip to the Lion King on the West End!

Sam Anstey, Managing Director at Mildreds said, ‘We are proud to be working with such a special charity. Spread a Smile do amazing work and all our teams are so pleased to be able to support them. It has been great to be involved and to experience the impact that Spread a Smile have in helping others.’