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.