The impact of the pandemic upon young people brings a renewed sense of urgency to supporting crucial projects around the UK, according to one philanthropist.
The Leus Family Foundation was established by the businessman and philanthropist Dmitry Leus. Born in Turkmenistan and now living with his family in the UK, Leus founded the charity to support children who are challenged by illness, poverty or special needs.
“The guiding principle of the Leus Family Foundation is that as a society we should be investing in every child. Every child deserves opportunity and to feel valued. If we invest in children, we are investing in our future. We know that some children – whether they are born into poverty, have special needs or suffer an illness – need an extra boost in order to fulfil their potential. That is our mission at the Foundation – to make a positive impact on their lives and to give them a sense of possibility. We see that our support is needed now more than ever due to the pandemic and the way that isolation and lack of resources has impacted vulnerable children in particular.” explains Leus.
The Leus Foundation supports multiple organisations, ranging from hospital charities such as St George’s and the Royal Free, as well as Runnymede Foodbank, plus youth clubs such as Bright Lights and Harrow.
Dmitry Leus meets a young member of Bright Lights youth club
Children at risk through economic disadvantage
An area of focus for the foundation has been connecting with children who are economically disadvantaged and at risk of being drawn into gang-related violent crime.
Leus explains that his Foundation supports organisations that offer vulnerable children an alternative path. “That is why we have been so pleased to support the Harrow Club”, he explains. The local areas The Harrow Club works with have some of the highest rates of school exclusion in the country and many of the young people the club engages with are at risk of being recruited by gangs and drawn into gang-related conflict, making the Club’s work crucial. The Club’s activities range from sports clubs to drama and dance. The Leus Family Foundation recently donated a minibus so that the Club can more easily transport the children and young people it works with.
Leus comments: “I am a huge admirer of the work that the Harrow Club does, both their long-standing programmes and also the way they step up to address the most pressing current needs. They took the initiative to start a weekend programme for assist newly arrived young refugees from Afghanistan who are living in West London hotels.
“Their efforts with young people who are in danger of being recruited by gangs is vital. They have a real impact, helping the most marginalised young people to maximise their life chances and to enhance their personal development, getting them on the road to employment and building their resilience and well-being. It is a great pleasure to provide the bus as a practical support for this great work.”
Leus’s work with economically disadvantaged young people is not limited to the Harrow area. He is also behind an initiative to get children from state schools in the Brixton area engaged with the sport of fencing. Together with Christopher Tidmarsh QC, Leus is determined to make the sport accessible for all and the duo began this mission in South London. They started by giving demonstrations in local state schools so that local children could see fencing for themselves, often for the very first time. Then they invited 7-11 year olds to attend Junior sessions for free with Brixton Fencing Club so that they could learn together with their peers who already fence.
Leus explains: “Once they join us, if they demonstrate the commitment, we will keep supporting them in the secondary school years. We want them to be absorbed organically into the club and know that they will gain access to coaching and equipment without charge. There is another strong motivation for us. We see the power of fencing to divert a child away from getting into trouble on the street. When a child is training with our coaches and feeling good about the skills they are building, then they are not so vulnerable to gang membership or experimenting with drugs. Fencing is an ideal sport to captivate young minds and build their confidence in a positive way. Yes, you need some aggression to win. But you have to be in control when you are fencing and also respect your opponent. We are delighted to draw youngsters into the rigour and training of fencing, especially when we know they are perhaps disadvantaged and need such direction and passion in their lives.”
Helping those with additional needs
Children and young people with learning difficulties and special needs are also central to the work of the Leus Family Foundation. The Foundation supports Bright Lights, a Runnymede youth club for children with disabilities ranging from autism, Asperger’s, Downs, and moderate-to-severe learning difficulties, with some of them requiring one-to-one care. Children with varying learning and physical disabilities attend the Bright Lights club every Thursday evening for two hours during term time. Dmitry explains: “”We are so pleased to boost the club’s range of toys and equipment so that children attending get the maximum enjoyment out of their time at the club. It is especially meaningful for us to be able to provide two future outings for the children, knowing how much pleasure the children will get from these fun experiences at a privatised trampoline park and Drayton Manor theme park – and of course how much they need it after a more isolated time during the pandemic.”
Dmitry added: “Bright Lights is exactly the kind of organisation we like to work with. They are a small team and they have the energy and commitment needed to make a significant impact to young people who really need this service.”
Support for poorly children
Children suffering serious or long term illness are also a priority for the Leus Family Foundation. The Foundation has a been a long term supporter of St George’s Hospital Charity, with donations targeted at aiding children and their families through the difficulties of illness. The Foundation supported the renovation of a children’s garden at the hospital. Updates to the site include the extension and improvement of the play areas, including a new slide and better wheelchair access. “My long relationship with St George’s has given me a great admiration for the children who are patients here, their families and the amazing staff,” says Leus. “This garden will lift spirits and hopefully provide moments of joy and relaxation between treatments. We were also please to supply ‘Buzzy’ pain relief devices to distract children and reduce any pain when they are having blood tests or injections, which can happen very often during long term illness.”
Leus concludes: “For our Foundation, the common theme throughout all of our work is that each child deserves the best start we can give them. A child does not get to choose their circumstances and when they suffer illness or poverty or are born with a disability, we all have a responsibility to improve their situation, to boost their opportunities. The pandemic and its impact upon young people makes this work more urgent than ever.”