Special Report: Reuben’s Retreat marks five years

Special Report: Reuben’s Retreat marks five years

Co-founder Nicola Graham says setting up charity was a ‘bit of a calling’. She tells Juliet Dennis of her pride at the progress made and outlines the challenges ahead

Exactly five years ago today (Monday), Reuben Graham fell asleep forever in his mum’s arms.

Just two days later, mum Nicola, together with husband Mike, founded a charity in their son’s name, Reuben’s Retreat, to help families with poorly children.

Nicola believes it was something she was meant to do.

“I didn’t want his life to be in vain. I needed something positive to come out of something so horrific,” she says.

“I think we were led on this journey; it was a bit of a calling. But I never anticipated Reuben’s Retreat to be as big as it is.”

Reuben died, aged 23 months, from a rare and aggressive brain tumour while on holiday.

Out of the grief and suffering, the retreat was born. In the five years since, the charity has developed from a fundraising page on Facebook to a bricks-and-mortar reality on the site of the former Woods Hospital in Glossop in the Peak District.

So far, three out of 10 planned phases of building and renovation work have been completed. Currently the retreat has a support centre offering everything from bereavement counselling to music therapy, and a self-catering holiday apartment.

Nicola, who previously worked at Red Sea Holidays, says: “Looking back, Reuben had some great family trips but it’s only from working on the retreat that I have come to recognise how valuable time away as a family is.

“It’s not that simple for all families to get away, in particular because accessible accommodation for poorly children is nigh on impossible to find.”

reubens-wide

The travel industry remains a key supporter of the charity, which raised £1 million within 23 months. The largest donation, £150,000, was from Thomas Cook Children’s Charity but firms also help in other ways, from cake sales to staff volunteer days at the retreat.

While much is made of the charity’s enormous successes, less is said about the challenges involved. The retreat still needs £750,000 to complete the next three building phases and £2.5 million to complete the whole project.

Nicola says: “We only shout about our successes, but the truth is it’s been a big, daunting task. After we raised a million [pounds], fundraising took a significant dip. Year three was tough.”

There have been many personal highlights for Nicola, from visiting 10 Downing Street to winning an Inspirational Women award.

But it’s seeing the difference it makes to families’ lives that really makes it worthwhile, she says.

And on a personal level, the charity has also helped. Nicola adds: “It’s given me a drive like nothing I’ve ever known in my work career. I can’t wait to make more of a difference.”


Timeline

August 21, 2012
Reuben dies. Reuben’s Retreat set up August 23

January 2013
Gains charity status

October 2013
Supports its first family in need

April 2014
Buys property in Derbyshire

August 2014
Fundraising: £1m August 2017

August 2017
Total people supported: 470 children and adults

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Reuben’s Retreat marks five years with fundraising campaign

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