Special Report: Reuben’s Retreat seeks industry help to finish the project

Special Report: Reuben’s Retreat seeks industry help to finish the project

Reubens Retreat has come a very long way in a short time, but the respite facility for families still needs £1.9m to complete vital building work. Lucy Huxley and Stuart Parish visit the Derbyshire charity

We’re always writing about how much easier it is to sell a holiday if you’ve been to the country or resort you’re selling. You can speak with knowledge, experience and passion. The same goes for me writing this article about Reuben’s Retreat.

I’ve written plenty over the years since travel professionals Nicola and Mike Graham set up the charity following the loss of their son Reuben to a brain tumour in 2012. Reuben was just 23 months old. But this one comes straight from the heart.

Having visited the site, along with Travel Weekly managing director Stuart Parish, I am hoping that writing with first-hand experience, better knowledge and renewed passion for what the Grahams and their team are doing will persuade you to dig a little deeper in Reuben’s memory.

Funding target

Reuben’s Retreat still needs £1.9 million to complete its conversion from a former hospital in the heart of the Peak District, and then at least £170,000 running costs a year thereafter.

These sound like huge, daunting sums of money, but Nicola isn’t fazed. She has split the renovation into 10 manageable phases, making each one tangible and achievable.

Building renovation

The building is much bigger than I’d imagined. I’d seen the aerial shot of the property when Travel Weekly supported Reuben’s Retreat at the Globe Travel Awards and the Northern Ball, but it’s only when you walk around the building that you realise quite how vast it is.

So far, the team has renovated and completed The Lodge at Reuben’s Retreat, and two families have already stayed in the apartment. It also houses an office and a communal room with a dining table. The finish inside is outstanding – stunning, made-to-measure furniture, bespoke paintings and beautiful soft furnishings. And so much has been donated, from the carpets throughout to a sink splash-back.

There are loads more brands out there that we would love to be involved with.

This family apartment is one of five planned to host families with children with life-limiting illnesses or those who have just lost a child and need to get away. All the rooms will be fitted with hoists and one will accommodate 10 people to ensure whole families, across generations, can go away.

So phase 1 consisted of the Lodge renovation, costing £300,000; phase 2 was the landscaping of the gardens, which cost £16,000; and 
phase 3 was the pointing and re-tiling of the roof on the main building, costing £264,000.

“The first slate, with Reuben’s name engraved on it, was put down by me,” Nicola says. “All the slates in one section are engraved with the names of children that parents have lost, in their memory. They’re on the underside, so you can’t see them – but someone will find them one day.”

What’s next?

Phases 4, 5 and 6 are next, including a hydrotherapy pool costing £250,000 (phase 4), a wellbeing suite consisting of arts, crafts and messy play, plus a sensory room and movie room, costing £250,000 (phase 5), and some office space, a reception area and volunteers’ quarters (phase 6).

Before any of that can be started, however, the building is being stripped out, including the removal of asbestos, at a cost of £30,000. The work started last week and will take two weeks.

Nicola says phases 4, 5 and 6 will be complete by the end of this year, giving Reuben’s Retreat a full day-care facility and activity zone, which the charity can rent out to the NHS or other organisations interested in the facilities. This will give Reuben’s Retreat a bit of valuable income to help it finish the project.

“I can’t see us going into next year with phases 4 to 6 not done as I am too impatient,” says Nicola.

Phase 7 is an orangery or Victorian tea room to be called ‘Nanny’s at Reuben’s’ – a reminder of how much Reuben loved to go to his nanny’s for Sunday lunch.

This phase will cost £650,000 as it involves knocking down a hexagonal building, which is out of place with the rest of the period property, and an extension overlooking the hills.

Nicola says she will have to employ a full-time chef and catering manager, but that the cafe will mainly be staffed by volunteers, possibly with learning difficulties or special needs.

This is just one example of how Nicola helps others. She tries, where possible, to buy from other charities to give them money. And she is working with Blackburn College, allowing tutors to bring construction students to the project to show them how a major renovation is done.

“It helps them – but they might buy a cake while they’re here, and go home and tell people about Reuben’s Retreat, so it all helps spread the word about what we’re doing,” she says.

Phases 8 and 9 are the self‑contained apartments. Nicola is also in talks to get a static caravan within an hour from the site that families could borrow for a holiday.

Fundraising ideas

She is full of ideas to enable Reuben’s Retreat to do more and to raise more funds.

One plan being finalised is getting Bruce Martin, of travel industry social media agency Ginger Juice, to come to the site in Glossop, Derbyshire, to offer a day’s social media training to local businesses in return for a donation to the cause. And she would love to hear from others in the travel industry who might have skills that she could make use of – and generate money from!

Nicola also wants more travel companies to adopt Reuben’s Retreat as their chosen charity – raising funds between the staff or from customers adding £1 on to every booking, perhaps as part of a corporate social responsibility programme.

Thomas Cook recently gave Reuben’s Retreat £150,000, the charity’s largest-ever donation, while Tui donated £37,000. It nominated Reuben’s Retreat as one of four beneficiaries of the onboard collection on one of its airline routes one year. Travel Counsellors, where Mike works, raised £23,000 at its conference.

Nicola is hoping more airlines will nominate a certain route to Reuben’s Retreat, more tour operators will add an opt-out charity donation option to their booking process and that wealthy businessmen and women – especially those who have made a lot of money out of travel – might make a philanthropic contribution.

“If the travel industry really gets behind us again, they could finish this project in its entirety, whether that’s through the corporate route above, or by baking lemon drizzle cakes or running in the Great North Run,” says Nicola.

“We’re not working with tons of travel partners – and would love to be. There are loads more brands out there that we would love to be involved with. And we try our best to ensure that those people who do support us get a lot out of it in return.”

Dig a little deeper

If you would like to do more for Reubens Retreat contact Nicola Graham on mummy@reubensretreat.org

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