Two women who set about arranging entertainment and outings for terminally-ill children and their families have been given MBEs in the 2024 New Year Honours.

Josephine Segal and Vanessa Crocker sat around their kitchen tables in Hampstead and decided they would “spread a smile” for sick children in hospital.

They founded the Spread a Smile charity in a small office in Chalk Farm in 2013, initially making two visits a month to Great Ormond Street Hospital with four entertainers.

But word got around and they were soon inundated with requests for many more hospital visits.

Their small charity has grown in the last 10 years and has had to move into the more-spacious ‘Uncommon’ flexible office building in Highbury with its quiet zones and meeting rooms.

It is now the country’s leading provider of children’s ward entertainment in 34 NHS hospitals and hospices, making 1,000 bedside visits every month.

“We never imagined 10 years ago that Spread a Smile would be where it is now,” Vanessa admits. “It remains our top priority to bring smiles and laughter to these families and some relief from their suffering.” 

Their list of entertainers includes fairies, magicians, artists, musicians and even a therapy dog.

Anita Mahatme’s son Varun, now 20, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma spinal bone cancer when he was just 10.

Anita recalled: “His chemotherapy was no mean feat — but the emotional therapy Josephine and Vanessa gave was key to Varun’s recovery.”

The charity also runs theatre trips and tea parties for the families, recognising the impact a child’s illness has on them. It has a long-term mission to bring joy to every seriously-ill child in the country.

Josephine said: “We have seen so many children going through months or years of hospital treatment. They lose their childhood while their parents have to watch them suffer in pain.”

The two have been trustees since their charity began, along with husbands Richard Segal and Paul Crocker, and remain actively involved in its day-to-day running.

The charity’s chief executive Lucy Jackson said: “I have seen them many times drop everything at the last minute to visit a child in hospital or perhaps nearing the end of their life.”

The inspiration for the charity came in 2013 after Josephine saw the impact a magician’s visit on her nine-year-old nephew Aaron during intensive cancer treatment in hospital, witnessing at first-hand the effects it had on Aaron and his family.