Junior fencing began again at the Brixton Fencing Club on 21 April after sporting lessons had to pause during the pandemic. The Imperium Sessions, which are free lessons offered to local school children, also restarted on 23 April.
The Imperium Sessions are designed to encourage participation by children from the who might not otherwise have access to a sport like fencing. These sessions are funded by the Leus Family Foundation, founded by Dmitry Leus, former European fencing champion.
Some flexibility has been needed to get the children back into their sport as the lockdown has eased. Brixton Fencing Club’s usual venue in the Recreation Centre is still being used as a food bank and so the fencing lessons have been moved to 5-a-side football pitch.
The Fencing Club say that this temporary venue has been a good enough substitute with the lower numbers that lessons may accommodate at this stage in the UK’s lifting of the lockdown.
Chris Tidmarsh QC, Committee Chair of the Brixton Fencing Club, explained:
“Before 21 April we ran online exercise classes which worked well, but the juniors are clearly delighted to be back in person to renew their techniques and their friendships.
We still have to observe many requirements such as social distancing, risk checks and attendance of COVID officer at every session, but the children’s enthusiasm makes it all worthwhile.”
Dmitry Leus, who is also Honorary President and Patron of the Brixton Fencing Club, commented on his foundation’s support for the drive to get local school children back to their free sessions:
“The pandemic has been especially hard on the youngest members of our society, especially with months of in-person schooling missed. We know the lockdown hit the most vulnerable the hardest.
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.”
Chris Tidmarsh QC added:
“None of this would be possible without the sterling support of Dmitry and the staff at the Brixton Recreation Centre. Dmitry’s sponsorship of the Imperium Sessions allows us to offer free fencing lessons to local school children.
Also, when our Fencing Club faced difficulties during the pandemic, as our expenses exceeded our income, Dmitry’s Foundation stood firmly by our side offering financial support to keep our community sporting association going.”
From children’s hospitals to fallen police officers to ‘Buzzy’ pain distraction, Dmitry Leus’s foundation helps dozens of good causes. It’s been quite a journey for the entrepreneur and former European fencing champion…
Despite growing up in humble circumstances in 1970s Turkmenistan – then part of the Soviet Union – Dmitry Leus’s childhood was rich in adventure and imbued with a strong sense of community. So Leus, founder and CEO of London-based property developer Imperium Investments, understands better than most the importance of supporting and inspiring children and young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds – indeed, he founded the Leus Family Foundation to do just that.
Recently awarded official charitable status by the Charity Commission for England and Wales, the foundation’s work has become even more important during the Covid-19 pandemic as experts warn that a generation of children, particularly those from poorer households, could see their life chances negatively impacted by the privations they are currently suffering.
“This is not an easy time to be young,” says Leus, father to four sons. “Youngsters in the UK are learning at home with no in-person schooling, unemployment figures are rising and those job losses are impacting families. What a tough time to be leaving school or university and trying to make your way into a career. I empathise with young people at this time.”
One cause that is close to Leus’s heart is encouraging children to take part in sport. As a teenager, he was in the Turkmen National Fencing Team, becoming European champion at the age of 17.
“My business mindset was created in the gymnasiums and competition halls of my teenage years and the spirit that it forged is what helps me through all other aspects of my life,” he says. “This is how the character is formed.”
Leus is patron and honorary president of Brixton Fencing Club in southeast London, which is funding free fencing lessons for children from low-income families and organising tournaments.
“I want to get more kids involved – kids from all walks of life,” Leus says. “I believe that there is a future European, maybe even Olympic, champion in Brixton and I want to find them.”
The foundation, which Leus leads alongside directors Michael Wynne-Parker KCLJ and Manjit K Gill MBE, also has a longstanding relationship with St George’s Hospital Charity which supports the work of St George’s Hospital in Tooting, south London. In March 2019, Leus funded child-friendly pain distraction devices for every child’s bed in St George’s – each Buzzy, as the devices are called, comes in cheerful, cartoonish form, for example a bumble bee or an insect, and, when placed against the skin, vibrates to distract attention from blood being taken or injections administered.
At the height of the pandemic, in December 2020, a new look Children’s Garden was unveiled at St George’s, funded by the foundation and bringing some much-needed colour in the bleakest of midwinters. Play areas have been extended and improved with a new slide and better wheelchair access, while a new seating area is being installed.
“This garden will lift spirits and hopefully provide moments of joy and relaxation between treatments,” Leus says.
As well as strengthening existing relationships through the pandemic, the Leus Family Foundation has added to its philanthropic portfolio, forging new collaborations.
It responded to urgent appeals from charities for the Royal Free Hospital, Princess Royal University Hospital and St George’s Hospital to support doctors and nurses on the frontline through care packages, mental health provision and the creation of respite spaces for staff. Leus also donated to Runnymede Food Bank, which he visited in May 2020.
He is also an ambassador for HealthProm, a UK-based charity working to support vulnerable children and their families in eastern Europe, Central Asia and Afghanistan, and Patron of Binti International, a charity whose vision is to ensure every girl and woman in the world has menstrual dignity. And, as a policeman’s son, he feels a personal affiliation to Care of Police Survivors (COPS), a charity dedicated to supporting the families of police officers and staff who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
The Leus Family Foundation is now looking for further opportunities to help where and when it’s needed and, in 2021, plans to bolster its organisation with people who have extensive experience in the charity sector.
“Having received official charitable status affirms our commitment to our causes and those we work with in the future,” Leus says. “It is a joy that our foundation is able to help so many young people and it is so rewarding to see the direct benefit that our support has brought to their lives.”
For a full list of charity partners and further information on projects undertaken by The Leus Family Foundation, please visit here
Imperium Investments has donated equipment to Brixton Fencing Club for senior fencers including one electric wireless set for recording hits while fencing and four ordinary spool systems.
The donation is part of Imperium Investments’ sustained initiative to assist the club to allow children from across Lambeth to experience fencing through lessons and access to the club’s facilities.
The company’s managing director Dmitry Leus, a former European fencing champion, said: “Sport can play a transformative role in a person’s life. It is not only about excelling at the sport itself.
“There are also tremendous life skills to be gained from dedicated training and the experience of competition.
“We are delighted to play a role in bringing the sport of fencing to local children and to work in close cooperation with the Brixton Fencing Club.”
Chris Tidmarsh QC, chairman of the club’s committee. welcomed the donation, saying: “Brixton Fencing Club was founded in 2004 and has always aimed to make the sport of fencing more accessible to local children. The equipment will help us enormously with that aim for many years to come.”
Brixton was the scene of a fencing competition for both child and adult fencers at the Brixton Recreation Centre on 10 and 12 December. The event was hosted by the Brixton Fencing Club in partnership with Imperium Investments.
On Monday the Under 7s competition was won by Poppy Lyster and the Under 11s competition by Sameer Sunder-Rajan. On Wednesday Nick Beaumont won the Senior Male competition, with Laura Sheffield the champion in the Senior Female category.
The Junior Male title was won by Luca Bodereau and the Junior Female title went to Erin Pedler. Chris Tidmarsh, the chairman of the Brixton Fencing Club said commented:
“The fencers thoroughly enjoyed the competition and having prizes provided by Imperium added to the stakes, making this a truly competitive experience for children and adults alike.”
Speaking at the event, Dmitry Leus said: “We were delighted to support this event. I know from my own background in fencing how important it is to get to the opportunity to truly compete. Competition strengthens not only your sports skills, but also your approach to life. It’s especially inspiring to see these young people competing and giving their all.”
Lavinia Oana Puiu, a coach at the Brixton Fencing Club, explained the benefits of the competition:
“This was a great opportunity to see the improvement in the children after their long training period. This kind of competition lets coaches really see their students’ fencing level. It was also such a pleasure to see the reaction from the students and their families to the prizes and presents.”
The competition forms part of a collaboration between Imperium Investments and the Brixton Fencing Club. They have joined forces to allow children across Lambeth to experience fencing.