Lucy Jackson at Spread A Smile Event

Meet Spread a Smile - a renowned UK charity whose primary focus is to spread joy to seriously ill children and young people across the country.

 

Through face-to-face visits and virtual interactions, their team of entertainers create moments of distraction and excitement to help young patients face their health challenges with optimism.

We are proud to partner with Spread a Smile and help support their mission through exciting volunteering opportunities and initiatives. In spring, our Butterfly Tree stood proud in our lobby offering visitors the chance to donate to the charity by purchasing a butterfly from the tree. In addition, our team members ran the Royal Parks Half Marathon and raised crucial funds to further support their important work.

In a discussion with Lucy Jackson, CEO at Spread a Smile, we gained insight into the charity's remarkable mission, its impact on seriously ill children and their families, and why brand partnerships are so important.

 

  • Could you share a brief overview of Spread a Smile’s mission and the impact it has had on the community so far?

Spread a Smile exists to bring light and laughter to seriously ill children in hospital. Just ask any parent who has sat for hours, weeks or months at their child’s hospital bedside what it feels like to see their child smile and laugh again, and you will begin to understand the impact of our work.

As one dad told us recently: "Since our first interaction with Spread a Smile almost four years ago, you have given us so many moments of joy as a family in the very darkest of storms. When it feels like the sky is falling in, there are people like you who not only make us feel like we can cope but help us to experience moments of real happiness.”

We have 30 NHS hospital and hospice partners and we make regular in-person and virtual visits with our teams of entertainers, including fairies, singers, artists, magicians and therapy dogs. At our in-person visits, we spend 5-10 minutes at a child’s hospital bedside bringing a much needed distraction from pain and treatment. We know that children who are entertained and engaged during their time in hospital are likely to feel more positive and hopeful about their recovery, which can improve their overall mental and emotional health and wellbeing.

Supporting the whole family is particularly important to us as we know parents and siblings can be deeply affected by a serious illness in the family. Our extended programme of family-focused theatre trips, celebration events, tea parties and virtual events are designed for whole families, with something for children of all ages. This year we will deliver over 30 tailor-made trips and events, benefitting over 1,000 children and their families. This includes our summer and winter parties and Christmas party, to be held at Corinthia London later this year. We also make regular treat drops across our hospital partners.

To make the hospital environment a more welcoming place for young patients and their families, we create colourful murals on hospital wards and windows, and our hand-painted bespoke masks and moulds support young patients undergoing radiotherapy treatment.

A child sitting in a hospital bed next to a woman dressed as a fairy and a therapy dog

 

  • What inspired the creation of Spread a Smile?

Spread a Smile was established 10 years ago (in 2013) after Aaron, the nephew of one of our Co-Founders, was diagnosed with cancer at age 9. His aunty Josephine arranged for a magician to visit him in hospital and such was the positive impact of the visit on Aaron that she promised him when he was better, she would arrange for more entertainers to see children in a similar situation. For the first time in a long time, after months of gruelling treatment, Aaron was smiling, happy and engaged. Josephine Segal teamed up with her friend Vanessa Crocker and Spread a Smile was born.

Aaron is now 20 and studying at University and continues to be our inspiration at Spread a Smile. Josephine and Vanessa remain very much involved with the charity to this day.

It was the passion and commitment Josephine and Vanessa had from day one about making a positive difference to families with a seriously ill child that has driven the growth of the charity and our unique approach, seeing every single person we interact with – be it family or donor - as an individual.

 

  • Have there been any particularly heartwarming stories or moments that highlight the positive difference Spread a Smile has made to the lives of the children and families you have worked with?

We are privileged to get to know so many wonderful children and their families who are going through such a hard time. Every single one has their own unique story and it’s a real honour for us to become part of their journey. Talking to parents at our events and during hospital visits, it’s so humbling to hear about the difference we are making. But I wanted to share two stories with you. The first is Chloe, who we got to know when the charity was first established. In 2013, aged 2, Chloe was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma, an aggressive form of cancer. Chloe spent much of her childhood in hospital, undergoing hundreds of gruelling, painful procedures and treatments; she was extremely unhappy.

Chloe’s parents, Richard and Karen, said: “Spread a Smile came into our lives a few weeks into our journey; the team made Chloe smile again. In came smiling, friendly faces to her room at Great Ormond Street Hospital. For us as parents, it was so uplifting to see her happy in hospital. Spread a Smile took away some of the fear and they also involved Chloe’s brother, James; they have been just as much a part of his life as for Chloe.

“Chloe passed away on 4 February 2022, aged 10. Even in Chloe’s final days, Spread a Smile helped us to create and capture many lovely moments. We are so fortunate that Spread a Smile has been part of our journey. They brought light into our lives. They brought Chloe laughter - which was just as important as medicine. It was their gift to us, which we know they give to so many other children, and we will be forever grateful.”

Click here to watch Chloe’s story.

Spread a Smile met Kaiya and her family soon after she was admitted to Great Ormond Street Hospital with high-risk leukaemia. Tragically, Kaiya passed away in 2019, aged 7. Her mum, Annu, shared with us the difference we’d made to Kaya.

“A Spread a Smile fairy came and gave Kaiya some activities to do, talking to her and laughing with her. She treated Kaiya like a person – a child – seeing more than her illness. Kaiya felt like the ‘normal’ Kaiya, not the ‘cancer’ Kaiya. She was able to have fun in the moment, talk about anything she wanted and everyone was so kind to her. Kaiya had visits from fairies, magicians, singers and even an artist who drew pictures of Kaiya’s favourite Disney princesses for her. She loved them all, but particularly the magicians and singing fairies. They made her feel so special and important. Being in isolation is like groundhog day every day, but Spread a Smile was like a breath of fresh air. Seeing Kaiya’s eyes and face light up when the team arrived was just brilliant. Spread a Smile made Kaiya’s last Christmas so special, when she was so weak that she didn’t have enough energy to open her presents. You managed to bring her beautiful smile back for that moment.”

A child laughing and playing games

 

  • Collaboration between organisations and charities is crucial. How has the partnership with Corinthia London and other brands positively affected Spread a Smile’s impact?

We discovered very early on in our partnership that we had so much in common and we were so proud to become part of the Corinthia London family and to make them part of our Spread a Smile family. Both of us place a real emphasis on creating a unique family-feel, injecting energy and positivity into everything we do. I can see that these shared values are already making this an incredibly meaningful and special partnership.

We are so proud to be working with Corinthia London. The team have thrown themselves into this partnership and we couldn’t be more grateful.

Spread a Smile receives no statutory funding. This year we need to raise £1.4m to deliver our work supporting seriously ill children in hospital and their families. Not only will our partnership with Corinthia London enable us to raise much needed funds but the awareness is very important too. We are so grateful that 29 members of the Corinthia London team [took] part in the Royal Parks Half Marathon in October. All the funds raised will directly support our work entertaining seriously ill children in hospital.

We are also very much looking forward to the Christmas party for the children and their families we support, to be held at Corinthia London later this year. We know it will be a very special and memorable day and will provide some much-needed time out for the families who are going through an incredibly hard time.

Earlier this year, a beautiful Butterfly Tree was installed in the hotel reception, and guests were invited to choose butterflies from the branches in exchange for a donation to Spread a Smile.

Spread a Smile is lucky enough to benefit from relationships with a number of other companies too, who offer their support in a variety of ways. For example, Lola’s Cupcakes have supported us since the early days and generously provide cupcakes for all our family events (we often say it wouldn’t be a Spread a Smile party without Lola’s Cupcakes). Riding House Cafes add 25p to every customer’s bill, donating a generous sum to us on a quarterly basis. Crayola are funding art sessions across hospitals in London and Downing LLP, recently sponsored Spread a Smile’s first ever event at ZSL London Zoo.

 

  • Do you have any exciting initiatives, events or projects coming up?

We are very much looking forward to our annual night of comedy, hosted by our brilliant ambassador, Suzi Ruffell, to be held at the Comedy Store in Leicester Square on 4 December, sponsored by our friends at Canary Wharf Contractors. Tickets will be available from the Spread a Smile website. Throughout the year we host golf days, football tournaments and lots more, and we always welcome new guests. You can find out more on our website.

We also have places in bike rides, half marathons and our Sahara Desert trek in March 2024, where a group raising funds for Spread a Smile will walk 100km through the Sahara Desert in Morocco (you can sign up here!).

We continue our family ethos through to our fundraising initiatives, working closely with individuals and companies to support their ideas and activities, helping them every step of the way to achieve their goals. We'd love to hear from anyone who might be interested in joining our family.

 

  • How can our readers, guests and followers best support Spread a Smile’s initiatives and contribute to the incredible work you do?

There are so many ways you can support Spread a Smile and have a direct impact on our work. We are a relatively small charity so your contribution really can have a big impact.

You can donate via our website either as a one off or maybe consider setting up a monthly gift.

We see each and every relationship as unique and believe in building long-term relationships with all our donors, enabling them to see the direct impact of their support. We always welcome the opportunity to meet with our donors and we are so proud to share information about our work and the incredible families we support. 

Perhaps you can support us via your company. We have a brilliant and experienced team of fundraisers on-hand to help and offer ideas. There are many ways you can support us whether it’s through company donations, taking part in challenge events, providing gifts in kind or volunteering. We would love to hear from you. As well as our amazing partnership with Corinthia London, we are lucky enough to receive support from other organisations including Convex, Bregal Milestone, Canary Wharf Contractors Fund, Mildreds, Hilco Capital and lots more.

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