"Make A Smile" volunteers interacting with one of the children at the park

‘We believe that all children deserve a childhood’: An Interview with ‘Make A Smile’

‘We visit children as their favourite childhood characters to bring fun, joy and most importantly a smile’

Make A Smile is new in town but has already made a big impression. Opening the Lancaster Chapter in late February, the charity is certainly still in the starting blocks but has already received so much support from the student body. As a student run charity, Make A Smile is entirely reliant on volunteers and it’s wonderful to hear about the reception this charity has had. Have you heard about Make A Smile? No, well let’s change that shall we because this charity is on a mission to spread the love!

“Make a Smile is a charitable organisation primarily run by groups of students throughout the UK and overseen by a board of trustees”

Make A Smile is a pre-existing charity founded by Cardiff medical student, Luke Morgan. After watching a video of a Tinkerbelle using BSL and seeing the child’s heart-warming reaction to realizing Tinkerbelle understood her, he promptly began the charity initially only in Cardiff. But after a very successful first year, Make A Smile decided to branch out across the UK, including in Lancaster.

The idea behind the charity was primarily to “bring the magic of childhood characters like Disney princesses and superheroes to the children who will struggle to have this opportunity otherwise” so volunteers from the charity would dress up and visit children at conventions, events and even in the hospitals to give them the chance to meet their childhood heroes. The volunteers at Make A Smile allow these children who may been feeling isolated or “different” to feel special, giving them memories they’ll never forget.

Volunteers interacting with the children

“The mission of Make a Smile is to try and help children enjoy their childhood”

The volunteers at Make A Smile believe that “all children deserve a childhood and understand that an illness or disability can make this very difficult for some children, so try to bring the magic to them”. The inclusivity and care shown by the volunteers at Make A Smile says it all, no volunteer can truly understand the lives of these children but that doesn’t matter, it’s the here and now that counts. And in the here and now, each and every volunteer is impacting upon these children’s childhoods, filling them with joy and countless smiles.

“The experiences that the charity create have a life-long impact”

Though some may argue against the impact Make A Smile can truly have on these children, I don’t think anyone can deny the “life-long impact” of the memories created. After speaking with a volunteer and her childhood trip to Disneyland, it was so touching to see how the volunteer’s own childhoods were driving them to surround these children with the same “positive energy and atmosphere created by the wonder and magic” of Disneyland.

“Most of the volunteers dress up as princesses or superheroes to connect us to the children and to make their experience magical”

As previously mentioned, the volunteers primarily dress up as Disney Princesses and Superheroes in an attempt to “embody characters and bring them to life”.  Make A Smile believe that the children will connect more to characters they have grown up watching just like most children. You can’t tell me you’ve never watched Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast during your younger years? They’re classic to every kid’s childhood.

“Make A Smile has been extremely rewarding for me as I love seeing children have a smile on their faces and I’m so glad I can be part of a community who make this happen”

To many of the volunteers at Make A Smile, the charity has become more than just a society rather a community. A family of volunteers all with the same goal, spreading some love to those that need it most. Make A Smile is so easy to get involved in and extremely rewarding. Ellie Molyneux, a volunteer at Make A Smile said: “Make A Smile has been extremely rewarding as I love seeing children have a smile on their faces” and I feel that’s certainly a feeling shared by all the volunteers.

“It’s important that we make sure young people don’t just remember their childhood as a time of isolation and worry”

During the pandemic, Make A Smile has been more important than ever and with the Lancaster chapter now open, the volunteers have no intention of wasting any time. Concerns about the isolating nature of COVID-19 for disabled children stuck on the wards has been a primary concern for the Lancaster volunteers.

We all know the effects the pandemic and lockdown has had on our mental health with many of us struggling with being restricted to our homes. Imagine how isolated these children must have been feeling? The Lancaster volunteers have already begun preparations to hopefully change the isolating wards into Disney heaven and start spreading some smiles.

"Make A Smile" volunteers interacting with some of the children

“This is the first society of MaS at Lancaster and we have not yet affiliated with the Student Union, though this is something we want to do in future”

Make A Smile is the first society of MaS at Lancaster University and is not yet affiliated with the Student Union. Due to this the charity is having to fundraise in order to pay for costumes with some even being made by volunteers. Despite this less than ideal situation, spirits are still high with strong intentions of affiliating with the university in the future in order to access funding.

“Currently both autism awareness and Makaton sessions are running alongside the training and acting lessons provided”

Not only does Make A Smile bring the magic and smiles but they also offer both autism awareness and Makaton sessions alongside basic training and acting lessons right here in Lancaster so that every volunteer feels confident interacting with the children. Make A Smile is very active in supporting it’s volunteers and appreciating all their hard work. Moreover, these training sessions are not only great for helping volunteer’s confidence but are also a “great opportunity for people wanting to learn some BSL and for people looking at working in professions where skills like these may be required.” So whether you want to volunteer purely for enjoyment or to gain some experience in the field, all are welcome.

You can reach out to Make A Smile through Instagram. You can also show support by donating with their GoFundMe page.

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