In 2011, two individuals, Daniel Jillings and Danny Miller, co-founded a charity that has since become a source of solace for grieving families in Greater Manchester and beyond
Named “Once Upon a Smile,” this charitable organisation emerged from a heartbreaking loss and the desire to transform grief into a force for positive change.
A Compassionate Beginning
The journey of Once Upon a Smile began when Danny Miller, inspired by the memory of influential figure Gavin Blyth (a producer on Emmerdale), sought to support Gavin’s grieving family following his battle with cancer.
Daniel Jillings, the co-founder of Once Upon a Smile, shares: “We wanted to support Gavin’s family in some way and began to look at what support was available after the death of a loved one.”
It was during this search that the lack of available support for bereaved families became evident.
He added: “We (co-founders) were shocked at the lack of support available and decided to use the network they had and create change in the way bereaved families are supported.”
Meeting a Growing Need
While Once Upon a Smile primarily focuses its efforts on Greater Manchester, the need for its services extends far beyond the city’s borders.
Their commitment to making a difference is not confined by geographical boundaries, as the demand for their support is national.
Evolving Services to Address Real Needs
The charity initially provided financial support and respite breaks to alleviate the secondary worries and stresses that accompany the loss of a loved one. Daniel emphasises that these vital services remain at the core of Once Upon a Smile’s mission.
In response to changing circumstances, the charity expanded its offerings to include Children’s Bereavement Support Groups (CBSG).
Daniel explained: “All the support we provide is tailored to the needs of each individual child that attends Once Upon a Smile. Every child is allocated a Bereavement Practitioner.”
This personalised approach helps children navigate the loss of the death of a loved one.
Sidley House: A Place of Healing and Hope
Sidley House, the dedicated children’s bereavement centre and headquarters of Once Upon a Smile, plays a pivotal role in their support services.
Daniel Jillings describes it as “a bright, warm, and fun building with specialist rooms designed by children we have previously supported.”
These rooms include spaces for cinema, baking, relaxation, arts and crafts, Lego, music, and a children’s room, allowing children to express themselves and begin their healing journey.
Stories of Strength and Transformation
One of the great news stories coming out of the charity (you can watch his story above), is Patrick.
He was the first young person the charity supported after the death of his twin sister, aged just 12 years old.
They supported Patrick for a number of years from the age of 12 onwards.
He passed his GCSE’s with A’S and A* and earlier this month passed his final exams to be a fully-fledged Paediatrician.
His mum Michelle said: “Patrick’s success in life is without doubt down to the help support and guidance of Once Upon a Smile. Without them, I don’t know where we would be today.
“I am so so proud of Patrick and everything he has achieved and I will be forever grateful to Once Upon a Smile for the rest of my life’.
Working Hand-in-Hand with Schools
Once Upon a Smile works closely with educational institutions in Greater Manchester to identify and refer families in need of bereavement support.
According to Daniel Jillings, “I would estimate that 70% of the referrals we receive come from the education sector.”
The charity also offers “WE’RE HERE FOR YOU BAGS” to schools free of charge, providing children with tools to navigate their grief.
The “We’re Here For You Bags” initiative, funded by Once Upon a Smile, offers schools specially designed bags at no cost.
These bags are intended for children and young people who have experienced the recent loss of a parent, guardian, sibling, or grandparent, but only within the past three months.
Meeting Challenges Head-On
Grieving children in Greater Manchester face unique challenges, and Daniel Jillings acknowledges that “grief is confusing and scary and brings many big feelings.”
Once Upon a Smile provides a safe space for these children to explore their feelings, understand death and dying, and find hope for the future through peer support and creative outlets.
Get Involved and Make a Difference
To the Greater Manchester community and potential supporters, Once Upon a Smile extends an invitation to join their mission.
While volunteering opportunities may be limited due to the nature of their work, the charity relies on the generosity of donors.
Daniel Jillings encourages support by stating, “All charitable causes post-COVID are struggling, and we are no different.
“Any support that can be provided would be truly brilliant.”
You can check out their website here
In a world marked by loss and grief, Once Upon a Smile’s amazing team of dedicated staff stands as a testament to the power of compassion and community, offering solace to those who need it most.