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.
“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.”
To find out more about the foundation, click here.
The Runnymede club welcomes children aged five to 13 with a range of learning and physical disabilities
Bright Lights Youth Club in Runnymede has received further support from the Leus Family Foundation, with the latest grant including toys and equipment for the club, as well as funding for two special outings for the children who attend the club.
The club, established in 1996, is for children aged five to 13 years with special needs in Runnymede and surrounding areas. The children have 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 can come to the club every Thursday evening for two hours during term time.
The grant from the Leus Family Foundation means that the children can now enjoy additional toys and equipment, including sensory light equipment, special chairs, mats, computers and books.
The grant will also fund a private trip in January 2022 to a trampoline park where the children will have exclusive use of the venue. In the Spring of 2022, club attendees will also benefit from a trip to Drayton Manor Theme Park for the children and staff, with the Leus Family Foundation covering entry and transport costs.
Lucy O’Neill, the chair of Bright Lights, spoke of the importance of the support from the Leus Family Foundation. She said: “We are delighted to receive this continued support from the Leus Family Foundation.
“The additional toys and equipment will add extra fun and stimulation to the time that our members spend with us each week.
“The privatisation of the trampoline park will open up this fun experience in a safe way for our members and we know Drayton Manor will also be an exciting highlight of the year for them.”
Dmitry Leus, the founder of the Leus Family Foundation, said: “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 the two outings, knowing how much pleasure the children will get from these fun experiences.”
Dmitry added: “We will be honoured to assist Bright Lights further in the future. Our Foundation admires the energy and commitment of the small team and the significant impact they make to young people who really need this service.”
The Harrow Club, which has six youth clubs across west London serving over 500 children and young people, has received a much-needed bus donated by the Leus Family Foundation.
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.
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 bus donated by the Leus Family Foundation will facilitate the transfer of young people between their activities and the different sites and will also open up the possibility of easier outings for the groups.
Michael Defoe, CEO of The Harrow Club, welcomed the donation: “We are delighted to receive this contribution. It will make a great difference to us to be able to transport the young people we work with using our own bus. We are very proud of the quality of programmes we offer to help young people learn and engage and this practical assistance is greatly appreciated. A big thank you to the Leus Family Foundation.”
The Leus Family Foundation is backing a scheme to offer young people in Brixton access to the sport
14:44, 9 NOV 2021
Brixton Recreation Centre might not be the first place you would look to find children fencing. The sport has a reputation in the UK, perhaps unfairly, as being elitist and more likely to be found in fee-paying schools.
Fencing’s “posh” image is not entirely unfounded as it can be an expensive pursuit, from coaching costs to equipment.
Yet many believe it is the ideal sport for building life skills such as strategic thinking and discipline in children and young people.
Christopher Tidmarsh QC and Dmitry Leus are determined to make the sport accessible for all and they began this mission in Brixton.
Christopher Tidmarsh QC is the committee chair of the Brixton Fencing Club, as well as a barrister with a wide-ranging Chancery practice focused on trusts and estates, tax and pension schemes.
Dmitry Leus is the Brixton Fencing Club’s honorary president and patron, as well as the CEO and founder of Imperium Investments and the Founder of the Leus Family Foundation, a charitable foundation that supports the development of children and young people, especially those facing the challenges of poverty, illness or special needs.
Together, the two men are the driving force behind a scheme to bring free fencing lessons to children from local state schools in the Brixton area, funded by the Leus Family Foundation.
As Tidmarsh explains, the initiative goes far beyond the free lessons: “We started by giving demonstrations in local state schools so that local children could see fencing for themselves, often for the very first time.
“To see the sport live can definitely capture the imagination and inspire a young person to want to learn the skills for themselves. Then we invited 7-11 year olds to attend our Junior sessions for free, so that they could learn together with their peers who already fence.”
The scheme is designed so that children can begin free fencing lessons at primary school age, but the aim is to keep them attending long after.
Leus said: “It’s crucial that children get exposed to training young, but it’s also essential that they keep training in those all-important teenage years.
“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,” said Leus. “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.”
Leus is himself a former European fencing champion. Can he spot the same talent amongst the young fencers in Brixton? Could Brixton produce a world champion?
He said: “Why not! We absolutely see natural talent amongst the children. That is why Chris and I also talk so much about the teenage years.
“The UK compares reasonable well in terms of nurturing talent at a very young age. But where France and Switzerland excel is in how they develop that talent post 11 years old.
“The UK needs to do more of that, to invest in the young fencers as they get a little older, to support them on to championship level.
“That is where costs kick in, whether it’s reaching the level where you really need to buy your own equipment or have access to the very best coaches. That is an area where my Foundation wants to help further.”
Tidmarsh added: “And it’s not only about the future champions. Fencing offers so much to children. From fitness, agility and hand-eye coordination to strength and discipline.
“The ability to be aggressive and yet control your temper. There are values to be learned in the saluting and shaking of hands – the ceremony that is in some ways similar to martial arts.
“It also opens up the world a bit, allowing children to meet other people at training and competitions – from all walks of life, people they might not otherwise get to meet.
“The truth is that the fencing community – far from being elitist – is open and friendly and there is a lot for children to gain socially too. We want to bring that to local children, even the ones who are not necessarily going to take it to the highest level.”
Leus said: “We have also been pleased to see girls taking up lessons. It’s very important to us that both boys and girls get a chance to gain both the physical and life skills that fencing offers. I can see a huge boost for a child stretching themselves in that controlled combat mode and we really want to see girls gaining from that too.”
Leus agrees that the fencing community is warm and welcoming, something he appreciated when he settled in to the UK with his wife and four children.
“Fencing is life-changing. One has to learn to be calm and controlled,” he said. “Mentally it’s like playing chess. You always have to think about your next steps and your opponent’s next steps. These are skills for life, they transfer beyond sport. That is why we are so eager to bring the fencing to disadvantaged kids, so they can get a boost in their wider lives.”
The foundation’s grant has not only boosted the weekly term-time service but also allowed the club to open during the summer holidays for the first time.
Founder of the Leus Family Foundation, Dmitry Leus recently visited the Runnymede Special Needs Youth Club, also known as Bright Lights, to meet with the children who participate in the club and learn about the positive impact of a grant from the Leus Family Foundation.
The club is for children aged 5-13 years with special needs in Runnymede and surrounding areas. The children have disabilities ranging from autism, Asperger’s, Downs, and moderate to severe learning difficulties, with some of them requiring one-to-one care.
Established in 1996, children with varying learning and physical disabilities can come to the club every Thursday evening for two hours during term time.
The grant from the Leus Family Foundation meant that the club could also offer its services over the summer holidays for the first time, offering a much-needed activity and opportunity to connect for children and their families over the long summer break.
The club provides a safe environment for children who might have difficulty accessing other facilities within the local borough. The base at Egham Orbit Leisure Centre enables the use of the soft play area, arts and crafts activities, books and toys from a toy library.
Bright Lights occasionally holds family and friends evenings when parents and carers can meet and discuss family matters.
The youth club is known for providing a vibrant programme in addition to its on-site offerings, such as outings. The children have enjoyed trips to places like the Isle of Wight, Disneyland Paris, Spain, Lapland UK, Paultons Park, Beale Park, and Legoland.
The club also holds a Christmas party every year where the children receive a visit and presents from Father Christmas.
Lucy O’Neill, the chair of Bright Lights, spoke of the importance of the support from the Leus Family Foundation: “We are here to provide fun and recreation for young people with special needs, which can also play a helpful respite role for their parents and carers.
“The contribution from the Leus Family Foundation is helping us to keep bringing this fun and support to children and their families, both during term time and even, for the first time, over the summer holidays.”
Dmitry Leus, the founder of the Leus Family Foundation, said: “I was so pleased to visit Bright Lights and see for myself the invaluable work they are doing. It is great to see these fantastic kids engaged and gaining so much from their activities.
“The visit also gave me an insight into what these services mean for the whole family, providing respite, support and connection, which is perhaps needed more than ever after the isolation of the pandemic.”
Dmitry added: “Bright Lights is the perfect example of the kind of organisation our foundation loves to support. They are a small team with a very clear mission, delivering significant impact to young people who really need this service. The results were visible in the room as I could see the children both learning and having fun.”