From foodbanks to youth clubs, organisations across Britain are getting a boost from a body with just one mission: to make a positive change in children’s lives
The hopes and dreams of future generations have never seemed more relevant.
With the cost of living rising, and families across the country feeling the crunch, it is especially vital that children of all backgrounds are given the opportunity to help shape the future. And that’s the principle at the heart of the Leus Family Foundation.
Founded in 2018, the organisation supports disadvantaged and vulnerable young people throughout the UK, helping in settings including hospitals, charities, foodbanks and youth clubs.
“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 all of our futures,” says founder Dmitry Leus. “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.”
Take the Bright Lights Youth Club in Surrey, for instance, which caters for children aged five to thirteen who have special needs in the boroughs of Runnymede and Spelthorne. The children here live with moderate-to-severe learning difficulties, autism, Asperger’s and Down’s, with some requiring one-to-one care. Children come to the club every Thursday evening for two hours during term time.
Now, funding from the Leus Family Foundation means that they enjoy additional toys and facilities, including sensory light equipment, special chairs, mats, computers and books. And thanks to the foundation, Bright Lights has been able to stay open during the summer holidays for the first time, and the children have been swimming at nearby Heron Lake and have visited the local Jump Giants trampoline centre.
“It is especially meaningful for us to be able to provide these outings, knowing how much pleasure the children will get from these fun experiences,” adds Leus, who has four sons of his own. “We shouldn’t underestimate children’s need for fun and play and the healing effects it can have.”
This philosophy undoubtedly has its roots in the founder’s own childhood in Turkmenistan. Back then, there were only two reliable escape routes for children seeking more than their meagre birthright – science or sport.
“Turkmenistan was incredibly poor,” he says. “The shops were usually empty, so bread and margarine were our staples, and on a lucky day, canned meat. There was no hot running water, only cold, switched on for 90 minutes a day.”
It wasn’t only money that was tight – hope and aspiration were in short supply too. But encouraged by a local fencing coach, young Dmitry picked up a foil and discovered a natural ability.
Fencing transformed my life, I love to see the same positive impact taking place with children
“I trained hard, striving to be the best,” Leus says. “I was motivated, I wanted to get on and, while I did spend time hanging around the streets as a teenager, it was significantly less than kids without a focus like fencing.”
By the time he became European Fencing Champion at the age of 17, his training had shown him how important it is for young people to have the tools and opportunities to improve their lives and learning.
It’s an ethos he’s also now sharing with disadvantaged kids in Brixton, south-east London. As patron and honorary president of Brixton Fencing Club, the foundation funds free lessons and equipment for children from low-income families and organises tournaments. The Imperium Sessions are designed to encourage participation by children from backgrounds who might not otherwise have access to a sport like fencing.
“There is a future Olympic champion in Brixton,” Leus says confidently. “Sport can play a transformative role in a person’s life. It is not only about excelling at the sport itself. For our foundation to help in any small way to get kids exercising, building confidence and learning the skills and discipline that we gain from sport – for me that is incredibly meaningful. Fencing transformed my own life as a child and I love to see the same impact taking place with children in London.”
It’s attitudes like these that inspired the gift of a minibus to the Harrow Club in west London, which offers sports, drama and dance to more than 500 children, refugees and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Some 80 per cent of the participants are eligible for free school meals, 90 per cent are from ethnic minority backgrounds and 20 per cent have been diagnosed with learning difficulties or disability issues. And from September, the club will be providing free fencing lessons, with the Leus Family Foundation donating equipment and funding a professional coach. The bus will be vital in getting children to and from classes.
The common theme throughout all of the foundation’s work is that each child deserves the best start that society can give them.
“A child does not get to choose their circumstances,” Leus says. “And when they suffer illness or poverty or disability, we all have a responsibility to boost their opportunities.”
With altruism fired by empathy and experience, that’s a responsibility Leus has woven into the very backbone of the Leus Family Foundation.