Chris Nutt from national charity Dreams Come True explores how a combination of aspiration and assistive technology can change lives, permanently.

Dreams transform lives. It is not always readily apparent how, but they do. When someone’s life is transformed they are no longer the person they were. They can do new things, scale new heights, reach new horizons.

At Dreams Come True we support children and young adults with serious and life-limiting conditions on a day-to-day basis. Our mission is simply to bring them joy by helping them achieve their dreams.

To most of us a dream is a subconscious alternative to reality with all its attendant benefits and characteristics, but it can also be about aspiration. In our world it is the chance to step outside the physical and psychological constraints of a serious, life-limiting condition or more importantly leave them behind. It can be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, a chance to meet an idol or more increasingly much-needed assistive technology. In either event a dream can be an essential part of fulfilling our potential, a sense of attainment and the need to build purpose in our lives and work.


Everyday freedoms

A sense of control, hope, inclusion and normality are generated by the simplest of dreams.

Most of us in the UK do not suffer from a lack of empowerment; we are rarely stigmatised, isolated or dependent. We can enjoy social lives, plan careers and work with relative freedom and reasonable choice. Yet these everyday freedoms are precious.

For children with serious and life-limiting conditions everyday life can sometimes seem like an additional burden of their situation. Dream fulfilment can offer the opportunity to remove the burden and restore normality for child and family. The effects are far from temporary bringing lasting and often life-changing benefits but experience-based dreams in themselves remain a source of relief and respite. When combined with assistive technology the dreams we deliver can be even more powerful.

Despite plenty of anecdotal evidence the impact of dream fulfilment on children and their families has not been fully researched. Dreams Come True is one of the few charities doing essential work in this area.

Since Dreams Come True began in 1988, it has enriched the lives of thousands of children and their families. It is the only UK charity in its sector focused on children and young people between two and 21 years of age and its work occupies a crucial yet neglected place alongside palliative care generating sustainable, life-changing benefits rarely within the scope of medical intervention. A sense of control, hope, inclusion and normality are generated by the simplest of dreams. Such positive perceptions last and are essential to people’s sense of self when they can easily feel defined by the impact of their condition.

Dream experiences present opportunities for people to achieve, learn, grow and accomplish in some way. Dreams are also ways in which children’s lives can be enriched in a way most appropriate to the child and their condition.

Dr Jayne Galinsky, University of Stirling, Power of Dreams Study.

We work hard at Dreams Come True to understand the longer term needs and aspirations of children and their families. Dr Galinsky’s study points to the phenomena of ‘post dream blues’ — the need for some families to readjust to normality that mirrors the experiences reported by families following discharge from statutory services. These may be especially relevant to our older children and young adults, which is why we maintain a focus on an age range up to 21 when the transition from childhood and family to the world of independence, opportunity and employment beckons.

Dr Galinsky goes on to say that…

A better understanding of this effect is clearly valuable for charities to understand how to optimise the dream process and perhaps find ways that the positive impacts of a dream can be carried over and reinforced.

An obvious solution is the assistive technology dream and whilst our mission is to respond to the needs of our children and families whatever they may be it can be especially fulfilling when a dream is combined with a need for life-changing equipment. It means we can often go further and do something about an underlying cause. We can have a direct impact on the conditions of children and young adults for whom the everyday freedoms most of us take for granted are literally beyond their wildest dreams.


Dream stories

Grace showing the joy of seeing the projector for the first time.

Nine-year-old Grace from Birmingham has severe and profound learning difficulties. She can’t communicate easily and so her mum, Emma, wrote to Dreams Come True on her behalf to explain Grace’s dream:

Grace recently spent four weeks in hospital and she absolutely loved the sensory equipment. She would love to have her very own bubble tube, fibre optic lights, cushion and projector. It would give Grace a place to go and be calm. She is in chronic pain a lot throughout the day and it would help her to relax.

With support from Dreams Come True, Grace’s parents were able to answer her call for help. They spent two months getting her room ready and when it was complete the whole family was delighted:

We’ve finally completed Grace’s bedroom and she now has everything up and running. The photo above shows the joy of seeing the projector for the first time. It’s made such a difference, I can’t thank you all enough!!

James is another young person who lives with a severe neurological disorder and visual impairment but these do nothing to deter his creativity. James is an aspiring artist, creating amazing pieces using an innovative eye gaze system, which has enabled him to explore his creative side.

James‘s life has been transformed. The system enables him to control his computer by eye movements alone. After much practice and training James is now empowered and able to complete complex pieces of artwork. He has set up his own bag design company with the proceeds going to support his school.

To be able to produce work independently has been life-changing for James who is reliant on other people for so many aspects of his day-to-day life. The technology has revolutionised his world and given him choices and a positive focus through his art. James’ dream was to be able to display his artwork in a gallery and he was delighted when Greenwich Art Gallery agreed to host to an exhibition.

The exhibition has inspired the whole family. The gallery did a brilliant job mounting and displaying James’ eye-gaze art and James was just captivated seeing the gallery devoted to his work. The experience has given the whole family an aura of happiness and has enabled us to put aside some of the worries about the progression in his condition and celebrate instead his considerable achievement!


Making dreams come true

In 2016/17 nearly a third of the dreams fulfilled by Dreams Come True were for assistive technology or equipment. Yet the same life-transforming dreams were only around 10 per cent of the total cost of dreams fulfilled. This cost/benefit ratio may be surprising but reflects the ways in which technology price performance is on a long-term downward trend and a wide range of solutions becoming mainstream. At the same time it illustrates how some comparatively simple investments in equipment and hardware can make a huge and lasting difference.

Yet there is still a huge level of demand outstripping the ability of statutory bodies or charities to support those in need. That is why Dreams Come True relies so heavily on the inspirational work of fundraisers like Chris Astill-Smith. In August 2017 Chris is swimming the English Channel solo aiming to raise £25,000 for Dreams Come True, to fulfil more dreams, and to help more children like Grace and James take life-changing steps.

Chris has no professional swimming background. He has the everyday demands of balancing work and life that we all face and yet he is training hard to take on the 35 kilometres of the English Channel and the busiest shipping lane in the world, an endurance challenge that takes on average 12-14 hours. Twelve to 14 hours that can change a life!

Chris’s cross-channel swim will raise money for children like Khalil. Khalil has severe autism and finds public places a challenge. He struggles to communicate past a few words and would love to swim in the deep end but cannot go to public lessons like other children. His dream is simply to have private swimming lessons so that he can enjoy the pool.

More people have made it to the summit of Everest than have swum the English Channel solo. It remains one of the world’s toughest endurance challenges. As well as completing the distance the channel throws up a host of hazards. The tides and temperature can be debilitating in the extreme.

This is why we want to recognise Chris’s exceptional work. Dreams Come True wants to reach out to, encourage and welcome new business sponsors and donors. Every year more than 50,000 children in the UK require access to palliative care services. This level of demand is reflected in a waiting list some nine months long for those children and families in most need of life-changing experiences and assistive technologies. Our corporate and business partners are essential to our ability to support fundraisers like Chris and children like Grace and James.

At Dreams Come True we work hard to find new ways of working with business partners to support the thousands of children and families who need our help. Backing Chris in his huge challenge is a great opportunity for business supporters to help.

Richard Ashton, CEO, Dreams Come True.

If you or your organisation want to help please get in touch by calling +44(0)1428 726330 and asking for Chris Nutt in the Corporate Fundraising Team. You can also get in touch with the charity here and find out about Chris Astill-Smith’s cross-channel challenge here. His determination deserves all our support. 

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About Contributors

Dreams Come True is a UK children's charity. Our mission is quite simply to enrich the lives of children and young people with serious and life-limiting conditions across the country by making their dreams come true. Over the last 25 years we have fulfilled dreams for more than 5,000 children and young people as well as their friends, family and carers.

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