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Irwin Mitchell pledges their support

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Irwin Mitchell pledges their support

We are delighted to have been chosen as Charity of the Year for the London office of law firm Irwin Mitchell. The national law firm’s annual charity initiative sees staff across 13 of its offices take part in a vote to select a good cause which they can support through both voluntary work and fundraising events. It is part of work undertaken by the Irwin Mitchell Charities Foundation (IMCF), an independent charity founded in 1997 which has raised more than £1.8 million for charities in the UK and abroad. This year, the London office of Irwin Mitchell has voted to support the work of Spread a Smile. 

Partner Alison Eddy said, “As a firm we have always been passionate about doing what we can to support important causes and organisations through both the IMCF and the Charity of the Year initiative. 

“Spread a Smile undertakes incredibly important work to bring joy, entertainment & laughter to children who are seriously ill and we are already planning a range of activities across the year which will ensure that vital funds are raised to support its services. 

“Helping good causes is a core part of life here at Irwin Mitchell and we are excited about seeing just how much we can do for Spread a Smile and our other chosen charities across the coming months.”

We plan to use funds raised by Irwin Mitchell to specifically support our work at The Royal London Hospital, reaching up to 1,500 patients next year. The site specialises in cystic fibrosis, retinoblastoma and gastroenterology and also has a paediatric critical care unit and neonatal unit for babies. 

Lucy Jackson, chief executive of Spread a Smile, said: “We burst into spontaneous applause when we heard Irwin Mitchell will be supporting us in 2019. We are a small charity so every penny raised really will make a difference to us and help us to spread even more smiles to seriously ill children in hospital in London.

“We are looking forward to getting to know staff at Irwin Mitchell and having lots of fun along the way.”

Feeling Festive at Chickenshed

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Feeling Festive at Chickenshed

We began to get into the festive spirit early on in December, as we took 30 guests to see Chickenshed’s A Christmas Carol. The Victorian tale had had a makeover: it was a brand new musical version updated to 1930s Britain. It was a real extravaganza – Chickenshed are an inclusive theatre company, and the cast was over 200-strong!

 

Our guests loved the afternoon. They were excited to meet and take a selfie with some of the cast before the show, including Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past. They were also treated to a Spread a Smile welcome with pizza and brownies, and got into the spirit of the season with many a fine Christmas jumper!

And the show was a hit.

Mum Anna said: “Thanking you all for the fun-filled day at Chickenshed today. Such welcoming and accommodating staff, as well as a fantastic performance of The Christmas Carol. A reminder of what is important and for the many everyday little things to be grateful for.”

 

Christine, mother of 6-yr-old Theo, said: “Thank you so much Spread a Smile for inviting us to Chickenshed to watch A Christmas Carol. We loved seeing you all again. Thank you all for doing amazing things for our children. It really makes a difference. Our son always looks forward to seeing you all at University College Hospital.”

 

A big thank you to Chickenshed for a wonderful afternoon, and our entertainers and volunteers for making the event a delight for our guests.

Bone Marrow Transplant Unit Visits at GOSH

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Bone Marrow Transplant Unit Visits at GOSH

Since April, we have been given special access to visit children in isolation rooms on Fox and Robin wards at Great Ormond Street Hospital. These wards are for children who need a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. They are treated in strict isolation before and after their transplant as they are at major risk of infection.

As infection control on these wards is so high, our entertainers are not allowed to enter the isolation rooms as this would compromise the patients. Instead they entertain the children through the room windows, communicating using the intercom system. Our entertainers have become adept at knowing what sort of performance will work under these limitations – a particular test for our magicians whose tricks normally rely on audience participation. They are so brilliant that they are still able to amaze and astound despite the lack of contact. We were approved for access to the ward after proving our due diligence with the understandably high standard of hygiene required.

The children, who range in age from 0 to 18 years, are kept in isolation usually for 3-4 weeks post-transplant – some for much longer. They are allowed visits from up to three carers, but their siblings are not allowed to visit until their neutrophil – a form of white blood cell – count is back to a safe level. The time in the room is very taxing. Play Specialist Amy Crowley told us, “They are not allowed to leave the room so they are naturally constricted. They are also connected to machines and pumps for the majority of the day so they do not have free movement. They are isolated from their friends and family, have no privacy and suffer from disturbed sleep. They never have a break.”

We spoke to Beverley, mother of Celeste who spent four months in an isolation room after her bone marrow transplant surgery. Celeste was 10 years old at the time and received a bone marrow transplant from her older sister as part of treatment for leukaemia.

Beverley said they were desperate for Spread a Smile to visit: “Celeste’s long four months in one room were incredibly isolating. She was not allowed to leave her room for the full four months after surgery, and couldn’t see her siblings for the first two months. The only visitors allowed for the initial stretch were me, and her dad at weekends when he wasn’t at work. Celeste couldn’t even see her twin sister.”

Play Specialist Amy stressed the importance of Spread a Smile’s visits: “The children and families love and appreciate seeing all the different entertainers. It brings happiness to the ward. I think Spread a Smile is amazing. To see the children’s faces when the entertainers come to their windows is a picture. Your performers are incredible. I can’t thank you enough for everything you do for Fox and Robin kids.”

Smile Party ’18

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Smile Party ’18

As the festive period approaches, it always means one thing at Spread a Smile HQ – the best party in town!

On Sunday 25th November, we were delighted and honoured to invite over 300 VIP guests to our Smile Party at the London Marriott Hotel Regents Park.

    

The space was crammed full of everything a child would dream of when conjuring up the perfect party. Favourites of our previous parties returned, such as the brilliant Build-a-Bear workshop and the delicious Lola’s Cupcakes. But this year we were also able to offer some fabulous new surprises! Surrey Car Meet members brought their awesome supercars for the guests to look at, sit in and admire. This Is Yr Live provided super-popular bespoke T-shirt printing, so our guests could design and take home their very own unique t-shirts. And we also welcomed some A-list celebrities of our own: Peppa Pig, George popped in to say hello as did Chase and Skye from Paw Patrol, thanks to the support of our generous friends at Spin Master UK.

    

Other highlights were Spread a Smile regulars, Pan’n’Ice, the innovative ice cream company that make ice cream crepes to order, virtual reality rides from VR Hire UK, the fabulous hair stylists from the Larry King salon in Kensington, who made our guests feel wonderful with their Blowdry Bar and the wonderful sushi provided by Sushidog. There were delicious treats from the sweetshop, built by our amazing sponsors Lawsons and filled with sweets by Swizzels Matlow. Arts and crafts workshops were ever popular, and the children – and even some of their parents – loved having their faces painted by our talented team. The dancefloor was seriously bouncing, and our younger guests put us to shame when they showed us how to floss! And of course, our wonderful Spread a Smile entertainers were there to keep the party going with a swing!

          

When it was time to go home, all our guests took home gorgeous going home goodies generously donated by Spin Master, Scholastic and Skinnydip, and brilliant animal balloons from Walking Pet Balloons.

Smile Party ’18 really was our best party yet and it wouldn’t have been possible without all the incredible suppliers, entertainers and volunteers who made it such a success.

    

A big thank you to BlackRock, Build-a-Bear Workshop, Coca-Cola, Djay Events, Hunter Price, JH Video Booth, Kellmatt Ltd, Larry King Hair, Nu Nosh, Nails by Mets, Lola’s Cupcakes, Pan’n’Ice, Pop Fusion Events, Speakeasy Bars, Ralson, Skinnydip, Scholastic, Rainbow Mascots, Spin Master, Surrey Car Meet, Sushidog, Swizzels Matlow, VR Hire UK, St John’s Ambulance, This Is Yr Live and Walking Pet Balloons.

As ever the London Marriott Hotel Regents Park was a great host and we are incredibly grateful for their continued support. We would like to say an extra special thank you to our wonderful friends at Lawsons Building and Timber Suppliers for sponsoring the party and making it all possible!!

Smile Gifts

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Smile Gifts

If you would like to send a more meaningful gift to your family and friends this Christmas or Chanukah then look no further! Send the gift of smiles!

By making a donation in lieu of a gift, you will be spreading smiles and laughter to seriously ill children in hospital. For each gift sponsored, we will send a personalised card to you or the recipient describing your donation and the gift chosen in their name.

       

You can choose from one of four gifts:

£100 will pay for an entertainer to visit 15 children in hospital.

£58 will pay for a face painter set. We have developed a special method of painting faces in hospital. This kit will ensure our face-painters are fully equipped with all the tools they need to paint the perfect face.

£25 will pay for a special toy for a seriously ill child stuck in their hospital bed over the festive period

£13 will pay for a magic kit. Our magicians always know just what to do to get a smile and this kit will make sure they have all the tools to do just that.

Whichever gift you choose, your recipient will know they have brought some much-needed joy and laughter to a hospital ward this festive period.

To purchase your gift, click here

Mastermind Varun on BBC Children in Need Appeal Show

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Mastermind Varun on BBC Children in Need Appeal Show

We hope you all were able to tune into the fantastic BBC Children in Need Appeal Show last night. Perhaps you caught the special edition of Mastermind featuring the inspiring 15-year-old Varun Mahatme alongside comedian John Thomson? We had the privilege of entertaining Varun when he was in hospital.

We met Varun during his treatment for cancer at University College Hospital and Great Ormond Street Hospital. He was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in his spine just before his eleventh birthday, and underwent seven months of chemotherapy, two major operations to remove the tumour and reconstruct his spine, followed by three months in America having proton radiotherapy.

Varun described our visits: “It was during my chemotherapy that I first met the Spread a Smile team. I woke up to find Magic Martin at the end of my bed. I had been feeling really rough that day and he took my mind off my illness with his extraordinary magic.

“It is very isolating being in hospital and I felt really alone at times. I was often bored and there was very little to do to take my mind off my treatment and I really missed my friends.

“Without Spread a Smile my journey would have been a lot more difficult to endure. I certainly would have smiled a lot less. It is a wonderful charity and they really do what they say… spreading smiles to all the children they meet.”

We have been receiving support from Children in Need since 2015, to help us entertain more children in hospitals and we are incredibly grateful to the entire team at Children in Need for their support and for helping us raise awareness of our work.

We would like to thank Varun and the Mahatme family for sharing their story. It was a privilege for us to entertain Varun who has been such an inspiration to the whole team at Spread a Smile.

Jamie Cullum and BBC Children in Need official single

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Jamie Cullum and BBC Children in Need official single

We are so excited to feature in the video for the brand new Children in Need official single, “Love Is In The Picture”, written and recorded by Jamie Cullum. It is available as a stand-alone charity single from today (Wednesday 31 October).

Jamie joined us recently on a visit to University College Hospital where he spent an afternoon with our entertainers, watching them do what they do best on the paediatric and adolescent wards.

  

He first joined the teenagers in a karaoke session with our lovely singer Collette. Together they got everyone singing, even those who were more reluctant and shy at first. Our magician Sacha then wowed everyone with his magic tricks.

 

Later in the visit, on the paediatric oncology ward, he was able to see magician Ian, fairy Ellie and face painter Marina make the kids smile and giggle.

   

Jamie said, “Spread a Smile is a very very well-named charity. I saw first-hand how they spread smiles all around here. Today I met a boy called who was hiding behind his blanket when we came in. He got to see a bit of magic, I got to share a few jokes with him and he heard some singing. In the end, he was smiling and chatty. You can see how that brings a little bit of lightness to a day that is otherwise filled with a lot of hardships that someone that age shouldn’t be going through. I feel incredibly moved by being here and by the work they’re doing and it’s an amazing thing that Children in Need are helping to make happen.”

Spread a Smile co-founder Vanessa Crocker said, “It was such a pleasure to meet Jamie. He had real empathy for the children and their families, and it was lovely to see him so engaged with the kids that we visited. I spoke to him about Spread a Smile’s work and how much we appreciate BBC Children in Need’s support. He told me it was amazing seeing such a tangible effect that Spread a Smile has: children who were quiet and detached, becoming engrossed by the entertainment and forgetting they were patients for a special moment or two.

“We are incredibly grateful to Children in Need for their ongoing support and for involving us in the official single this year.”

The footage filmed on the afternoon will be aired as part of the 2018 BBC Children in Need Appeal Show on Friday 16 November, at 9.50pm on BBC One.

‘Love Is In The Picture’ is on sale from today (Wednesday 31 October) and all profits from the single will go to the charity, with a minimum of 40p from each single sale.

Make sure you tune into BBC One on Friday 16 November at 9.50pm to see the single’s debut performance and watch our brilliant entertainers in action!

Golf Day

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We welcomed 80 golfers to Dyrham Park Country Club on Wednesday 10th October for our inaugural golf day.

We got incredibly lucky with the weather and managed to schedule the day, which was sponsored by Resolution Property, to coincide with a mini heatwave. The weather in the run-up to the event had been cold and wet, but on the morning of our event, the sun shone brightly and we had the most perfect day for a round of golf! 

We wanted to give the teams the true Spread a Smile experience so as well as offering endless Krispy Kreme doughnuts, cookies and chocolate, we were delighted that three of our magicians, Martin, Sacha and Louise, could entertain the players on the course. Later in the day we were joined by Judge the Poet, who wowed guests with his spontaneous poetry. It was a great opportunity for them to experience the entertainment we offer to our young patients in hospital.

      

Lucy Jackson, our CEO, said, “We could never have dreamt when the charity started just 5 years ago that 20 teams of golfers would choose to support us in this way – or that we would have such great weather in the middle of October.”

Over a delicious lunch in the clubhouse, the golfers listened to an introduction to the charity, given by Lucy Jackson, chief executive of Spread a Smile. Then Anna Moss, mother of Vanessa, spoke movingly of the difference the charity made to her young daughter and family over the years Vanessa was treated for Neuroblastoma at Great Ormond Street Hospital and towards the end of her life.

We raised an incredible £30,000 on the day and we would like to say an enormous thank you to everyone who came, donated and supported the event.

You can see all the photos from the day here

Thank you so much to Resolution Property for sponsoring the day, to Dyrham Park Country Club for hosting us, to Parks for donating luxury candles for the goody bags, to all those who donated items for the raffle, to Zahid at Optic Blaze Photography and to our Spread a Smile entertainers and volunteers for helping make the day a success.

Meet Louise – our newest Magician

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My name is Louise Andrée Douglas and I’m a magician and illusionist. I was quite late to the magical party, so to speak. Growing up, I didn’t see many magicians, apart from the likes of Paul Daniels on the television and the odd part-time magician who’d do magic at the local Chinese restaurant where I grew up! I certainly didn’t see female magicians performing. Apart from the glamorous Debbie McGee and other magicians’ assistants, there really weren’t any female magic role models.

  

Despite my exotic middle name, I am Scottish born and bred. I moved to London in 2008 to work as a dancer and choreographer, which is where I caught the magic bug. I was cast in a BBC show called ‘The Magicians’ in 2011, as they wanted a trained dancer who could move well to be the magicians’ assistant. I got to work with some of the world’s best magicians and illusionists, seeing their tricks up close, and I was hooked. It was like the most amazing crash course in magic, experiencing all the diverse styles and ingenuity of the different magicians. I started trying my own close-up magic in the park whilst watching the London 2012 Olympics on the big screen, practising on the other people watching. Experiencing that moment when the person you’re performing to is genuinely suspended in disbelief – I just loved it!

I really wanted to be involved in more magic and saw an advert for auditions for a project to put together a group of female magicians, to encourage more women to get involved with magic. I was incredibly lucky to be given that opportunity and work with two amazing magicians, Jamie Allan and Adam Heppenstall, who were brilliant mentors, and soon ‘Chicks n Tricks’ was born. As part of ‘Chicks n Tricks’, I performed with two other women and we enjoy playing with the traditional assumptions surrounding magic and gender. The woman is no longer just the magician’s assistant to be put in the box! As female magicians, we have to rethink how we present our magic  – for example, male magicians normally wear suits with plenty of pockets to store their cards and props and transition between one trick to another seamlessly; however, we often perform in dresses with no pockets so we adapt to a handbag or think of ingenious ways to make sure things run smoothly! 

Magic can be quite a small world and many magicians are acquainted on Facebook and Instagram. I knew Spread a Smile regular, Martin Rees, through Facebook and loved all of his Guinness World Record magic tricks and posts about Spread a Smile. Soon after, I saw the Children in Need Appeal Show and the film about Spread a Smile’s role in Vanessa Moss’s story. I was so touched by the film; I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Strangely, a few days later, I had a call from Martin saying that Spread a Smile were looking for more entertainers, and specifically a female magician! He put me in touch with Josephine and it all went from there. 

As soon as I met Josephine, I just knew that Spread a Smile was something I wanted to be involved in. Her passion, drive and enthusiasm were so contagious. I left our meeting feeling on top of the world – like I could do anything! She told me what a difference Spread a Smile entertainers can make, and it sounded like something I would love to do. Magic is fun to perform but normally I perform for corporate events or big stage shows. I felt like this was a chance to use magic to genuinely make a difference. 

I was quite nervous before my first visit, as even though I’d had lots of advice, I just didn’t know what to expect. My first visit was to Great Ormond Street Hospital in April and I was on a team with fellow magician Martin and singer Sam, with Josephine escorting us. I absolutely loved every minute of it and all nerves completely vanished as soon as I got on the wards. 

The children were just incredible; I couldn’t believe it. I expected to feel a bit sad or maybe even awkward, and was worried I’d say something wrong or not perform appropriately, but the kids and their families were just so welcoming. Even though some of the children were in the middle of gruelling treatment or just about to go into surgery, they were just so enthusiastic and fun!

On that first visit, we met a family who were just incredible: a little boy in oncology and his brother. It really hit home after meeting them how important it is to entertain siblings and families, as well as the child who is the patient. The boys were so funny and kept asking to see more and more magic, and were singing songs and taking selfies. Their mum, dad, gran and grandad soon joined in too! It was just such a lovely family moment for them. It felt like one big party. That visit will always stick in my mind partly as it was my first, but also because I thought, no matter what happens in the future, that family have made those special memories together and it was such an honour to be part of that. 

Having been on more visits now, I realise that sometimes you have to be very adaptable. I had never performed magic in rubber gloves before, for example, or through a glass window – sometimes essential when a child’s immune system is particularly low so we can’t go into the room. It’s a challenge, but a challenge that is worth it to see a smile creep up on a child who might be feeling really rubbish that day, or a child who has said they don’t want to see any entertainers but then catches a glimpse and changes their mind! 

The most difficult thing about going into the hospitals is seeing children who were full of beans last visit, having a particularly bad day. Because of the fun and laughter that’s created during our visits, it’s easy to forget sometimes how poorly some of the children are. Their bravery totally astounds me. 

The positivity and strength of the children I’ve met on my visits is absolutely unbelievable. One of my favourite memories was from a little girl I met in one of the oncology wards who said she totally believed in magic and especially ‘the magic of friendship’.

The Spread a Smile team are incredible: every single person I have met has been absolutely lovely as well as talented. And Josephine and Vanessa, the charity’s co-founders, are total angels here on earth! 

I joined Spread a Smile because I wanted to use my magic to ‘give something back’ and make a difference without gaining anything in return. I feel bad now, because I have actually gained so much! The reward of seeing the smiles and knowing you have helped to make a difference, even just for five minutes is such a lovely feeling. My favourite thing about working for the charity is the laughter you hear throughout the ward when Spread a Smile are there!  

A School Report: VIP outing to hit musical School of Rock!

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In September Finn, 12, and his family joined us on our very first outing to School of Rock. Finn’s mum, Jo, tells us what the trip meant to her, Finn and the family.

Getting an invitation to a Spread a Smile outing is always exciting, but never more so than when you’ve been away in Germany with your son for four weeks, with another three still to go, halfway through him undergoing 30 radiation proton beam treatments. And it was to go as a family to the musical ‘School of Rock’.

Me (mum), Dad, brother Tom and especially Finn were all super excited as we had wanted to see this show for ages, but since Finn’s diagnosis of soft tissue Ewing’s sarcoma in January, such family treats and days out have been very limited as Finn gets so tired, and is just sometimes too ill.

So come Monday 3rd September, we all caught the train into London, buzzing with excitement, to meet the Spread a Smile team at the Gillian Lynne Theatre in the West End for pre-theatre dinner, the best kind – pizza! Spread a Smile entertainers were there to delight and wow all the children whilst waiting for the performance to start. The magician Martin is one of Finn’s favourites; he never fails to impress and astound us all.

Then we were off into the theatre, drinks and snacks in hand, for the performance. School of Rock, based on the hit movie, follows failed wannabe rock star Dewey Finn as he becomes a supply teacher to make some extra cash. Unbeknownst to the students’ headmistress and parents, he and his young pupils form a rock band to enter a battle of the bands competition.

The show kicked off impressively with the ‘school children’ being delivered to school by their parents, through the aisle right beside us! From there, we watched avidly as the seriously impressive children sang, danced and acted their way through the play, with a very convincing Dewey Finn, played by actor Craig Gallivan, leading the way. The phrase from the song, ‘Stick it to the Man’, has since become overly used in our household!

During the interval, the Spread a Smile team delivered School of Rock ice cream to us. Since starting his treatment, Finn has struggled with low appetite and his taste buds have also changed. Treats such as pizza and ice cream are always welcome though, and he seems to eat more when distracted and happy.

To top it all off, the Spread a Smile team had arranged for the children to meet the cast after the performance! Finn was over the moon to meet the lead actors, and find out about how the children in the cast manage to perform such late nights and matinees and still go to ‘real school’.

There were happy faces all round. The children know this is something very special to be invited to, something that even their friends (who can do ‘everything else’) can’t get access to. And us parents are truly grateful that our children have the chance to feel special, and take a break from their new, less active, routines. A Spread a Smile event always has fun and delight at the top of the agenda, whilst unfailingly taking care of each child’s individual needs.

Thank you to everyone who gets behind this amazing charity; it really does make a huge difference to the lives of the children and their families.

Finn, his brother Tom and their parents were among 37 guests to be treated to the VIP outing to School of Rock. A big thank you from us at Spread a Smile goes to Ashley Herman at Encore Tickets, the wonderful staff at the Gillian Lynne Theatre, the Andrew Lloyd-Webber production team, Lola’s Cupcakes, and our Spread a Smile entertainers Martin Rees and Collette Spinner. Thank you also to the fabulous performers from School of Rock who took the time to meet the kids after the show, and even have a sing-along with our young guests.