Spread a Smile was founded by Josephine Segal and Vanessa Crocker in 2013 after seeing the positive impact a magician’s visit had on Josephine’s 9-year-old nephew, Aaron, when he was treated in Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH).
Aaron was diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma, a type of stomach cancer, in 2012 and spent five months at GOSH. He had to endure intensive chemotherapy treatment which meant he was isolated in his hospital room and he became increasingly withdrawn. Josephine arranged for a magician to visit and the effect was instant: it lifted his spirits and made the treatment more bearable. He then asked if the magician could go into the other children’s rooms to make them smile too. However, as it was a private visit on that occasion, hospital rules didn’t allow for the magician to visit the rest of the ward. Upset at the idea that the other children wouldn’t be able to enjoy the magic and fun, Aaron suggested it would be a wonderful thing for Josephine to organise more visits in the future. Josephine promised him that she would make it possible and the idea for Spread a Smile was formed.
She teamed up with Vanessa Crocker, who she’d worked with for eight years at a charity that organises wishes for terminally ill children, and together they founded Spread a Smile to ensure that all the children that wanted entertainment on the Oncology Ward in GOSH would be provided for. This quickly expanded as demand grew and now there are many more visits to additional wards at GOSH and we have expanded into University College Hospital (UCLH), The Royal London Hospital and, in 2017, to St Mary’s Paddington. We now visit seven major London hospitals, making at least 40 visits a month and brightening the days of over 7,000 children each year.
Points of Light
In December 2016 the work of Josephine and Vanessa was acknowledged by Prime Minister Theresa May, who awarded them a Points of Light award.
The award recognises outstanding individual volunteers, people who are making a change in their community and inspiring others. In a personal letter to Vanessa and Josephine, Prime Minister Theresa May said: “Through ‘Spread a Smile’, you are brightening hospital stays for children and teenagers and making difficult experiences so much more bearable for the whole family. The additional trips and workshops you organise provide much-needed support and respite for families too.”
Vanessa and Josephine said: “We are absolutely delighted to receive recognition of the amazing work our team does for seriously ill children and teenagers in hospital. We dedicate this award to all of the incredible families we see whose extraordinary resilience carries them through such difficult times.”