Over a year ago, one of my boyfriend’s best friends, Henry Cumming got diagnosed with cancer. I had only met Henry the once when he came to stay at mine for the weekend but it felt like I had known him a lifetime by the time he had left.
Despite his condition, he was so positive and it was obvious he had had an enormous impact on the friends he had made over the years. As he got sicker and it was obvious that time was running out Attila and myself were feeling more and more helpless. What can you give to someone who only has a few weeks left?
I then had the idea to give him a legacy. I offered to give a child a free place at my school, the Anna Fiorentini Theatre & Film School, in Henry Cumming’s name. I offered to do this every year so that his name could be carried on. It was decided that the child chosen each year should either be a cancer patient themselves or be living with a loved one with cancer, and therefore would really value the respite and fun offered at my school.
Then last year it dawned on me. Why help just one child when I can help more? I had made a promise to Henry that I would give a child a free place every year regardless of whether we raised the money for that child or not. But obviously to help more children we needed to raise funds.
Every year Stage & the City puts on a charity showcase for the Fiorentini Foundation. Last year it raised money to help save our Performance Troupe which tours to hospitals, care homes, and homes for the elderly. The year before money raised was for less privileged children that wished to access the performing arts to increase confidence and self-esteem. One of the children that this money helped was Jayden Oshenye. We gave him a free place at the school and then we got him the role of Fletcher in the West End’s The BodyGuard playing alongside Beverley Knight.
Over the 17 years, I have been running the kids school I have witnessed shy children blossoming and developing into wonderful young adults. One of my long-standing students, Zoe Sadler, who joined at the age of 7 and then left at 18 was sent to us because her older sister had severe autism and her mother wanted Zoe to have an outlet. Zoe came to us with 2 left feet and a singing voice that was so out of tune. She left as an incredibly talented student and recently graduated from Bristol University with a First degree.
There are so many children like Zoe that have traumatic home lives but with the right support can have great futures. We can’t help everybody. But at least once a year we can choose a campaign to fight for. And this year it is children with or affected by cancer. I can only imagine the lack of confidence a child has if they have been given a diagnosis of cancer or similar illness. Or if they are either coping with a loved one with this horrendous disease or are in recent bereavement.
It was sad enough losing Henry when we did. But I am so glad that his legacy lives on. We are now in talks with Great Ormond Street Hospital so that we can work together in providing these free places.
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