Shooting star children’s hospices provides inspiring levels of care for children with life-limiting conditions and their families. The leus family foundation recently visited the charity’s guildford hospice, christopher’s, to see the facilities.
Christopher’s, one of two hospices run by Shooting Star Children’s Hospices, is situated in Artington, near Guildford. The hospice is known for providing exemplary care for children with life-limiting conditions and supporting the whole family.
As the only children’s hospice in Surrey, Shooting Star Children’s Hospices cares for new-borns to 21-year-olds. The young people and their families welcomed at Christopher’s benefit from the compassion and professionalism that the CQC Outstanding rated hospice is known for. It begins with the specialist care team but extends into every element of the care and environment provided at Christopher’s.
The thought with which the hospice has been designed and equipped is striking. The philosophy behind it is to enable children to play and participate in as many activities as possible without having to leave the hospice. The corridors are wide enough to fit two wheelchairs through at the same time so those with access needs are able to move around the hospice together. Also on the walls are images of the children and their families as well as the children’s artwork, which gives Christopher’s a friendly feel and the children enjoy finding their image when walking around. Children staying have access to a hydrotherapy pool, with lights and other sensory equipment, where they can experience the benefits hydrotherapy can bring, whilst also allowing them to have fun and enjoy the water with siblings and family.
The hospice garden allows opportunities to play, for example on a specially designed trampoline built into the ground meaning it’s accessible to wheelchair users. There is an area where plants have been donated and repurposed from an award-winning garden from the Chelsea Flower Show and seating allows places to meet, talk and rest for families. A smaller, enclosed internal sensory garden allows children to roam and play freely. Inside, a kitchen, soft play room, arts and crafts area, and cinema room all add to the comfort and stimulation that Christopher’s aims to provide to children and their families. Enriching experiences, such as a visit from Santa or rabbits for petting, are arranged for the children and their siblings to enjoy. When possible, visits to venues such as Chessington World of Adventures are also arranged.
The bedrooms are designed and fully equipped to cater to the needs of the child using the room, including hoists where needed to assist the child. Each room has its own sink, wardrobe space and CCTV installed to monitor the children throughout the night, whilst ensuring they are inviting and comfortable, with colourful bedding and soft furnishings. Their position, with patio style doors backing onto the hospice garden, allows a feeling of being close to nature. The bathrooms on site have baths with jets, hoist equipment to cater for all needs of children, plus paintings and images on the ceiling. Christopher’s also has six bedrooms upstairs to allow families to stay when needed.
There are two rooms, the Willow Suites, which are peaceful bereavement suites. Hospitals currently allow families to stay with a child or baby who has passed away for two hours, however, at the hospice families can stay with their child for up to one week, giving them the chance to say goodbye. These rooms offer self-contained living, with an outlook to the memory garden, where the families can have a space to remember their children with an engraved leaf with their child’s name, hung on the memory tree’s. The suites are fully air conditioned with a cold mattress to help preserve the child’s body. Bereaved families are offered a wide range of support for three years and three months post bereavement, including counselling, therapies, family memory days, social groups, support visits and resources.
The Leus Family Foundation has recently become a supporter of Shooting Star Children’s Hospices, donating Christmas presents and committing to further support in 2023. Leus Family Foundation founder Dmitry Leus said: “The level of care provided not only to ill children but also to their families is inspiring, in terms of the compassion, professionalism and quality of life that Shooting Star Children’s Hospices strives to deliver. Our Foundation is proud to support them, and I urge others to do the same. When life has been limited, it is all of our responsibility to support those who bring comfort and happy moments at terribly difficult times.”
Lisa Dennis, Director of Care at Shooting Star Children’s Hospices, welcomed the support from the Leus Family Foundation, saying: “Thank you so much for the wonderful gifts the Leus Family Foundation donated this Christmas. The children were absolutely delighted, especially with the amazing sensory equipment. Thank you from everyone at Shooting Star Children’s Hospices for the Foundation’s continued support.”
If you would like to support the work of Shooting Star Children’s Hospices, consider donating via their website. Families wishing to learn more about the services provided by Shooting Star Children’s Hospices can read this information in the How We Help section of their website.
The club ensures children with additional needs get the support and fun they deserve
Bright Lights Junior Youth Club is hosting some special events for its members during the festive season, including a Christmas party and a visit to Jump Giants, with support from the Leus Family Foundation.
The Youth Club, which welcomes children aged five to 13 years old with special needs from North West Surrey, held its Christmas party on December 13, with gifts from Father Christmas and games. The celebrations will continue to December 20, when the group will enjoy a visit to Jump Giants trampoline Park, which has been privatised for them by the Leus Family Foundation, so that they can enjoy the fun of the trampolines safely.
Bright Lights is known for providing a vibrant programme in addition to its on-site offerings, such as fun outings. The children have enjoyed trips to places such as the Isle of Wight, Disneyland Paris, Spain, Lapland UK, Paultons Park, Beale Park and Legoland.
In its weekly sessions, the club offers activities from soft play, arts and crafts activities, books and toys from a toy library. The children have disabilities ranging from autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Downs Syndrome, and moderate to severe learning difficulties, with some of them requiring one-to-one care.
Lucy O’Neill, the chair of Bright Lights, said: “We are delighted to be able to offer our members with these enjoyable experiences over the Christmas season. Our party is an annual highlight and seeing the children having some carefree fun at the trampoline park again will be fantastic. Our thanks to the Leus Family Foundation for their continued support.”
Dmitry Leus, founder of the Leus Family Foundation, added: “We are proud to support Bright Lights in their efforts to ensure local children with special needs enjoy all the fun of the season. We also aim to support them into the New Year with the toys and equipment they need as they transition to a new venue that does not have an existing soft play area.”
The grant will make a huge difference as local people continue to struggle
The Leus Family Foundation has made another grant to the Runnymede Foodbank to assist with the current increased need, with rising fuel, heating and food bills adding to the difficulty local families living in poverty are facing.
The manager of Runnymede Foodbank, Jenny Wardill, welcomed the recent donation: “We warmly welcome this additional support from the Leus Family Foundation. We are seeing a rise both in the volume of people needing our services and also the length of time that they need help for. We expect a challenging winter and so this assistance from Dmitry Leus and his foundation is greatly appreciated.”
The foodbank has noted higher demand across its six sites which operate five days a week, with the warehouse teams delivering and dispatching three to four times per week.
The organisation has also seen that clients are becoming more long term, sometimes needing to visit the foodbank for up to 12 weeks. There are fears that this is a sign of families and individuals falling into deeper poverty, with longer term needs.
The Runnybank Foodbank has also been very active in helping families through the school holidays to ensure that children most in need have access to food.
At the beginning of July, 400 food4lunch bags were sent out to families of children who use free school meals. The bags contained ingredients and recipes to supply them with two weeks’ worth of hot meals for the child. This school holiday preparation cuts down the demand slightly but then picks up again towards the end of August and the month of September.
During the summer, there are around 70-100 visitors, who are visiting to feed families of four or five. Numbers then rise to 200 or 300. Visitors double towards the end of the summer compared to the start. The Chertsey site is open for two hours and it was getting 10-15 clients. Now it is seeing 20-30 clients for families of varying sizes.
In addition, the foodbank has employed an advisor from the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), a valuable resource to support and advise clients with the aim of improving their situation.
Dmitry Leus, founder of the Leus Family Foundation, said: “We are long term supporters of the Runnymede Foodbank and we see how crucial their work is. Our Foundation aims to provide opportunity to the most vulnerable children and of course that starts with the most basic requirement – that they not face hunger. We also want to help alleviate the enormous stress on parents if they are not able to put food on the table for their family.
“I do encourage anyone else who is able to donate to think of Runnymede and make a contribution if they can, especially as we look towards a difficult winter for many.”
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.
The Harrow Club, which provides youth clubs and other support for disadvantaged children and young people in London, has announced that they will be providing fencing lessons from September, with the help of the Leus Family Foundation, a charitable organisation founded by businessman Dmitry Leus.
Fencing has been added to the activities offered by the Harrow Club and the lessons will be available for children aged 8-18. The Leus Family Foundation has supported the initiative by donating the necessary equipment and helping to find and fund a professional coach. The lessons will begin on Friday 9th September, from 4-9pm.
This gives the children of all ages a chance to try the classes, as the youth club for the Juniors is from 3.30-6pm, and the older children (13 onwards) is from 6-9pm. The coach will run four sessions during this time, with the children learning the basic skills, positions, footwork and target practice. If enough children are confirmed and would like to continue, the Harrow Club, with the support of the Leus Family Foundation, will look to setting the lessons across two days a week for different age groups. After three weeks of basic training they will progress to lessons with the equipment.
Michael Defoe, CEO of The Harrow Club, spoke about what the impact of the new fencing lessons will be: “The Harrow Club is thrilled to further diversify the opportunities we provide for children to develop and learn new skills. We are hoping many young people will sign up to learn fencing. It’s a great sport in itself, as well as being ideal for building the wider life skills of confidence, mental focus and resilience.”
Dmitry Leus, the founder of the Leus Foundation and a former European Fencing Champion, explained the significance of this new initiative: “The impact that fencing can have on a child is immense. They not only learn a great sport. They also learn strategic thinking. They find a very constructive way to channel any aggression and they enter a new community full of new role models and opportunity.
“All children should be able to access this sport as it offers so much and we are so pleased we can build access to this sport for the most disadvantaged children in West London.”
The Harrow Club has been working with the local community since 1883. Their aim is to address needs amongst young people related to disadvantage and poverty. The Club’s activities range from sports clubs to drama and dance. Their network of clubs includes Harrow, Chelsea, Old Oak, Sands End, White City and Lancaster Road and welcomes children and young people between the ages of 8 and 21 years old, of whom 80 percent are eligible for free school meals, 90 percent are from ethnic minority backgrounds and 20 percent have been diagnosed with learning difficulties or disability issues.
With this letter I want to express my sincere gratitude to the Leus Family Foundation and personally to Mr Dmitry Leus.
Our family lived an absolutely normal happy life, until on February 24th, Russia treacherously attacked our country at night. It was at 5am that one of the first Russian missiles flew past the open window of our house near Kyiv, changing our lives forever. Even though we didn’t realize it at the time.
Air raids, constant rocket attacks, hours in basements and shelters. In between these attempts to lead a normal life – work and go to school.
I’m not afraid for myself, I’m afraid for my children. In addition to the real danger for life and health, there has come the realization that the future education and development for children is becoming very difficult, if not impossible. The situation worsened every day. We decided to turn to Dmitry Leus for help.
A month later, my son and I were in England. We were met, placed in comfortable accommodation, provided with everything necessary, and most importantly, support and understanding that we still have a chance for a normal life. And for our children, hope for the future – study, sports, new friends.
I know that the Leus Family Foundation helps many children and families, and my gratitude is immeasurable and sincere.
Thank you for helping me and my son escape from the hell that is happening now in my country. Thank you for the opportunity to return to normal life, to teach our children and to give them a chance for the future. In our country, this is now impossible.