Enriching the lives of seriously ill children and their families, Starlight Children’s Foundation’s Starlight Wishes project makes dreams come true for poorly little ones. A charity partner of The Red Carnation Hotel Collection, the foundation also provides toy-packed Distraction Boxes and Fun Centres, complete with entertainment units, to hospitals around the country. We speak to Starlight Children’s Foundation’s CEO Cathy Gilman about the charity’s heart-warming initiatives.
Who is Starlight Children’s Foundation for?
“It’s a national children’s charity that is dedicated to brightening the lives of seriously ill children, young people and their families.
There are nearly 49,000 children and young people in the UK living with a life-limiting or life-threatening condition, with 5,500 new diagnoses each year. This can often mean spending a lot of time in hospital, which can be a frightening and lonely experience, particularly for younger children who may have to be separated from their parents for long periods of time.”
What kind of work does the foundation do?
“Starlight offers a unique combination of services that help children and their families to escape from the reality of serious illness. We provide distraction and comfort through some of the most challenging times, bringing the normality of fun and play when it is most needed and probably least expected.
Play is an essential part of maintaining the wellbeing and normal development of a child, even when they are seriously ill. It also really helps parents to see their child having fun, if the child is happy, the parent is happy.
Our services include Distraction Boxes to support children through difficult procedures; we provide entertainment and toys to clinics and wards, as well as story tellers and pantomimes; we offer family days out that we call Escapes, which enable the whole family to spend a precious, fun day together and we are perhaps best known for granting wishes that give children the opportunity to make important decisions for themselves and to have a unique occasion to anticipate, to share and to remember.”
What do the Starlight Escapes typically involve?
“We are very lucky that hundreds of volunteers, and generous partners enable us to host a programme of special events and days out for seriously ill children and their families. Families can be certain that whatever the event, their needs will have been carefully provided for. They can also be confident that they will be in a safe space, where illness is the norm and there will be lots of other families just like them.
The events are very varied and can be anything from advanced private screening of films, to boating parties for just small numbers of children as well as opportunities to fly in helicopters or even shoot clay pigeons for up to 800 people.”
What are some of the most unusual wishes that Starlight has received?
“Because wishes are only limited by the imagination of a child, it’s fair to say that it’s not unusual to have unusual wishes! Recently we had a teenager who was recovering from cancer who wanted to make a speech at the United Nations in New York about “Positivity through Adversity”. We also had a little girl undergoing treatment for leukaemia who designed a wedding dress with Alice Temperley and a little boy who wanted to join the Royal National Lifeboat Institution for the day, complete with his own pint-sized uniform.”
What have been Starlight Children’s Foundation’s biggest achievements to date?
“Each year we try to help more families, which we can only do thanks to the voluntary support of thousands of people. Last year, we were able to grant 663 wishes; provide 170 story-telling and pantomime shows; send out nearly 1,000 Distraction Boxes and nearly 3,000 Boost Boxes filled with toys and games for hospital wards. We also entertained more than 2,000 people at 11 escapes – it’s fair to say it was a pretty busy year!”
How can hotel guests best support the work of the Foundation?
“The simplest way to support Starlight is to make a donation, every single donation really does help. But if you have more time to get involved, we’d love to support you with your own fundraising event or you could join one of ours. You could nominate Starlight as your charity at work or you could volunteer to help at our head office in Hammersmith or at one of our escapes – there are so many ways to help.”
Image credits: all images courtesy of Starlight Children's Foundation.