In The Spotlight - Saving Ravens Retreat
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So a quick recap of the story so far.
Ravens retreat was set up in remembrance of my dear friend Donna Drewson. We weren’t just best friends, we shared a granddaughter Emilia Willow, so we were grandmothers together too!
Sadly, Donna left us after a brave battle with breast cancer two years ago when Emilia was only three months old.
Donna had been thrilled at the idea of providing free breaks for cancer patients and had always cheered me on throughout my career as a therapist and soul midwife.
We never dreamed that one day I'd be nursing her.
On 11 September 2018 I held her when she left us.
I promised her that everything I would do at Ravens Retreat would be in her name.
It would be a beacon of love and hope for others with end of life diagnosis.
Part of my mission was to help our granddaughter to remember her amazing Nanny Donna.
So that’s exactly what we did.
We provide free breaks for cancer patients, therapies and healing, soul midwife services, free funeral celebrant and wedding celebrant services.
We later expanded into counselling services for veterans.
How are you going to do it FREE people asked? I trusted in the universe.
And that’s exactly what we did.
Then the floods came…
October 2018 Storm Callum hit and 3 feet of water and sewage engulfed our beautiful street, devastating our homes, along with all the hard work and graft that had gone into the ruined Retreat.
We got back up and started again with promises of help from Natural Resources Wales and Neath Council.
The following June 2019 we reopened, welcoming in our first cancer patients since the flood, and our new healing cabin was opened.
I didn’t dwell on it happening again.
We had been promised preventative measures by ‘the powers that be’, so naïvely, we carried on with our lives.
Then earlier this year, in February, Storm Dennis arrived.
I can honestly say I have never been so scared. The river Neath breached the wall at the top of Canalside 2.30am and our street became a river.
We had flood gates, and the council had provided us with all of three sandbags.
But nothing could stop it pouring through the letterbox and under the doors. The sewage spewed up through the toilet bath and sinks, and then started to rise up the stairs.
Lights went out.
We could do nothing.
All the promises made by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and Neath Council, none of them had been implemented. We had no insurance as no one would insure us after Storm Callum.
I sobbed in the dark inside Ravens Retreat Healing Cabin.
I'd have to let down people who needed us, and I honestly thought my heart would break.
We needed to get up and fight…
My daughter Cheryl tweeted the famous Welsh actor Michael Sheen, and within hours he replied wanting to help. Friends, family, everyone waded through sewage to help.
We decided to get together as a street with 30 houses, with 30 stories to tell behind each door. Surely they couldn’t continue to ignore our plight?
A month later Covid-19 arrived, bringing with it a nationwide lockdown. We were stuck in a flood-ruined street with rats, bare concrete floors, and two ruined cottages - with no building supplies available it truly was a nightmare.
Michael Sheen agreed to help and to give us a platform to be heard.
The river was still full of debris - NRW had told us 500 tons needed to be cleared but there was no sign of them doing it.
I phoned ITV news to tell them that we as a street were going to get in the river and clear it ourselves.
What about Covid they asked? We will socially-distance. And Michael Sheen would be there to help us.
Of course they would cover it!
Michael was amazing, telling everyone that our street's problems were now a threat to life, and if next time someone was injured or killed would they then help us?
Next we arranged a socially-distanced meeting at the golf range, attended by all agencies involved.
We presented video evidence, statements from the fire service, stating that if the wall fails people could die.
Ordinary people told their stories, and Michael was there again, supporting Ravens Retreat and Canalside.
This was the day that the stress of the situation finally broke me.
Neath council mentioned a compulsory purchase order.
We had been completely blind sided.
They talked of making models of the area, giving reasons why they couldn’t fix the wall or the aqueduct which acted as a dam in a storm.
It could take four years, they said, to complete reports.
I asked why these reports hadn’t been started two years previous, after Storm Callum? They had no answers.
Worst of all there is absolutely nothing at all that has been done to help us, neither is anything planned. It’s already September and we are trying to protect our properties ourselves.
Michael Sheen has given us £500 per house for flood defence. We are building walls and fitting backflow valves, but the reality is, we are living in fear.
We are the forgotten street.
It breaks my heart to have to close Ravens Retreat at the end of September until March 2021.
The risk of flooding is too great.
I cannot have vulnerable cancer patients staying there, knowing that if a storm descends, they could be in real danger within minutes.
When the heavy rain comes now, my anxiety levels rise with the river’s!
I will continue to offer therapies from my healing cabin, weather permitting, as all monies made go towards retreat.
The saddest part is having to accept that we are facing a compulsory purchase order of our home and retreat. Both our houses are mortgaged, but we have to move to continue our work providing free breaks.
Canalside has been my paradise. Donna was here with me, but I know that wherever we move to she will come too. I talk to her everyday. Emilia gives me kisses, one for me and one for Nanny Donna.
People ask me if I will ever give up.
Giving up is not an option.
I made a promise to Donna, and to see the amazing difference we make to cancer patients and their families, how could I?
I’ve started to fundraise through Go Fund me for Ravens Retreat 2. The link is below.
Hopefully we can find somewhere in the valley with a small piece of land, also where we can provide a space for ashes to be scattered or buried, as that is the one thing I currently can't provide.
I'm sure it will be as magical as Canalside and Donna will be there beside me cheering me on. Like she always has, and always will.
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