March 2020

In The Spotlight - The Wish Cottage Project/Ravens Retreat

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This month is shining the spotlight on...

The Wish Cottage Project/Ravens Retreat

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The Wish Cottage Project/Ravens Retreat

In June 2018 we told you the story of the most wonderful woman, Joolz Raven Stewart, who set up a retreat for cancer sufferers and their families to stay in for free.

The retreat is set along an idyllic canalside in Neath, South Wales.

It has recently been devastated by the storms and flooding for the second time in as many years, and so Joolz has asked us to share this open letter with all our readers.


Open letter to our Prime Minister, Government, Environment Agency, HRH Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, President of The Canal & River Trust, Neath Council.

To the powers that be.

It's almost a week since Storm Dennis devastated our little street Canalside.

We are a terrace of 29 old but beautiful cottages, as the name suggests we are nestled by the side of the Tenant Canal.

You hear older people talk of how it used to be when people looked after each other, you could ask neighbors for help, leave your door open. When there were real communities.

I always smile, feel proud and blessed because canalside is exactly that they are describing Us.

I know everyone in our street.
We are a tribe.

We look out for each other, we remember birthdays, pick up shopping, give lifts when needed, fix cars, we don't live in each other's pockets but we have always got each others backs; you get the picture.

I also run a non profit cancer retreat (soon to gain charity status), The Wish Cottage Project.

I provide completely free breaks, a soul midwife service, celebrant service, counseling and therapies for patients with life limiting illnesses and their loved ones.

Lots of people said I wouldn't be able to do this completely free of charge, but they don't know about the magic and support of canalside.
We have been doing it for over two years. We provide lots of beautiful people with a safe happy space to forget about hospital appointments and to just be themselves.

To walk alongside our beautiful canal and explore local areas supported by us and our neighbours.

In October 2018 we were devastated by Storm Callum. All our hard work and our wonderful Ravens Retreat was ruined.

We hadn't had flooding here since the early 90s, so we pulled together as a community; baled water and sewage, dried out the cottages, hacked off plaster, dug up floors, pulled out fitted kitchens, white goods, sofas, furniture, clothing, toys, but nothing was salvageable due to the sewage. Imagine a film of human waste covering everything you own.

Strangers came to help, we had no electricity for days, but the canalside residents stuck together, unbreakable bonds were made and strangers were now friends.

It took us from October 2018 and Storm Callum to June 2019 to recover.

The sun shone and we welcomed home those who had moved out whilst builders re-built their homes.

Ducks, geese and the dog walkers passed our cottages again. Our community breathed a sigh of relief, we were home, together.

Life went on.

We welcomed families for cancer breaks from St Helens, Liverpool, North Wales and Swansea.
A word they often used to describe canalside was magical.

I vividly remember our first group of ladies after the flood, Viv and Jule. They were friends from my hometown of St Helens.

Viv had just finished radiotherapy. A mutual friend had rang to ask if she could join them with her best friend who was having chemotherapy for a terminal diagnosis. Everything was arranged and they traveled down together.

They arrived from Liverpool after a long drive and I introduced myself to Bex. She smiled but looked quiet and lost. She was wearing a back brace and they had wondered if the drive over would be too long but she had been determined to come.

As the four of them looked around our retreat, slowly Bex began to smile.

That week was truly wonderful.

They sat by our fire pit, sunbathed on the decking, drank wine, laughed lots, discussed hopes and fears.

Bex confessed to wanting to climb a mountain and I thought, leave it with me. Anything is possible in Canalside.

It was a sunny day when we drove into Swansea to visit Mumbles pier.

We had lunch and I sat on the beach beside Bex. “There's your mountain”, I said, pointing at the lighthouse on the hill.

Her face lit up.

I sat in the sun watching her slowly but surely climb up the hill to Mumbles lighthouse.

She stood at the top with the wind in her hair, waving over to me.

That will always be Bex's mountain.

You see that's what Ravens Retreat & The Wish Cottage Project is all about.

Fulfilling wishes and dreams, giving people hope.

We are so much more than a little cottage on a little street.

When Bex, Viv, Shaz and Julie drove away at the end of a perfect week, the sun shone, their car radio blared and they sang at the top of their voices.

My heart smiled.

The girl who arrived looking quiet and tired, left glowing, happy and smiling.

I feel privileged to call her my friend and to have been part of her journey. Sadly Bex died a few months later.

Why am I telling you this?

It's because although you 'see' the floods on TV and a few of you may walk down the street you don't get to know our stories.

You come then leave to sit in warm houses without the real fear of 'What if' hanging over you when you go to bed, or if you’re in work and it starts to rain.

Behind each door of each cottage is a story.

A family just like yours.

I want and need you to know how loved and important this small street is.

So a week later after our second flood in sixteen months we have done the same again.

We pulled together, bailed sewage, cared for our vulnerable, less able neighbours.

New strangers have arrived to help and we have lost all our possessions again.


Because the preventative measures promised were not honoured.

This time I have no insurance.
Not because I chose not to because I couldn't get cover after Storm Callum.

A £6,000 oil central heating boiler, a beautiful sofa bed bought for patients who are too weak to get upstairs, all our white goods, carpets, crockery, all contaminated again by sewage.

Preventative measures that we were promised didn't happen.

Why am I writing to you a week later?

Because as I clean up the mess in my bedroom that has been trodden upstairs all week,
I have found a pile of thank you cards from people who have stayed with us. A letter from my best friend Donna Drewson who died September 11th 2018 telling me how proud she was of me and the Retreat.

She always believed in me

Everything we have done is in memory of her.

Finally my strength left me.

I sat on my bed and sobbed.

I want to believe that Neath Council, the Environment Agency, the water board, the Government, Prince Charles and the Prime Minister have taken on board our dilemma and that this time you will do something preventative to help us.

My greatest fear is a few months down the line the press reporters and news crews will leave.

The Council will be spending money on speed bumps and once again we will be forgotten.

So Prime Minister, Prince Charles, Government and all the others I have called out.

Put your wellies on.

Knock on our doors, hear our voices and our stories.

Talk to us.

Remember Canalside.

We are worth saving.

Do I want to move? Of course not.

Where else could I find such a melting pot of amazing people?
It may not be your idea of paradise but it's ours.

Please help us preserve it.

Yours in hope,

Joolz Raven Stewart

You can help this amazing woman and her cancer retreat by clicking on the following links and helping in any way you can.



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