Great Manchester Run: Charity Reuben’s Retreat celebrating 10th anniversary with 150-strong team of runners

An incredible charity supporting the families of children with serious illnesses or who are experiencing bereavement is marking a decade of helping others at an event it has developed a close affinity with over the years.

A charity is marking a decade of helping families of children who have serious illnesses or who are going through bereavement by having a 150-strong team participate in the Great Manchester Run.

Reuben’s Retreat in Tameside was founded 10 years ago by Nicola Graham after she and her husband Mike suffered the sudden and tragic loss of their 23-month-old son Reuben.

The charity has now grown substantially and currently helps around 500 people.

Large contingents of people supporting Reuben’s Retreat have previously taken to the streets of Manchester for the 10k and there will be a sea of the charity’s special colour Reublue in the run once again this year, with Mike among the runners.

The Graham family, with Mike, Nicola and their sons Isaac and Reuben

How is Reuben’s Retreat being supported by Great Manchester Run participants?

The charity is marking 10 years in style with an incredible 150 runners taking part in the Great Manchester Run on Sunday (22 May) to support it.

It is not the first time the charity’s backers have come out in force for the event, with 250 people taking part the year of Reuben’s death all wearing Reublue vests with Reuben’s photo on the back to support the charity.

This inspired Mike to have a go and he has been running the event annually ever since.

This year he will be wearing the charity’s distinctive colour and his kit will have a picture of his son waving on the back.

The fund-raising is for the expansion of the charity’s facilities to include a series of self-contained apartments for families and the JustGiving page is here.

What happened to Reuben?

Mike, who is from Mottram, explained the tragic and shocking circumstances which led to Reuben’s death during a family holiday.

He said: “We drove down to Devon as a family of four to go on a camping holiday and we came back as a family of three.

“Before we went away we had no idea that something was seriously wrong with Reuben. A few weeks before the holiday he started avoiding certain foods and things like toothpaste, but we took him to the doctor and they said it was just ‘usual’ toddler virus.

“We went back to the doctor when he started being sick and putting his head on his shoulder but they said it was just a virus again and some fresh air on holiday would do him good.

Reuben, who died from an aggressive brain tumour aged just 23 months

“On the drive to Devon we had to stop at Gloucester hospital because he was being sick again, but the doctor there advised he had an ear infection. Our biggest worry then was that we couldn’t take him in the pool.

“But a few days into the holiday Reuben lost his balance, fell over and banged his head. He cried a lot and then he was just silent.”

The family rushed him to the small local hospital at Barnstaple A&E where a CT scan revealed a suspected brain tumour.

Mike said: “The doctors weren’t too concerned until we got the scan results, but then everything became very serious. He was airlifted to a neurological unit in Bristol to go straight into surgery. But we weren’t allowed in the helicopter with him.

“We met him there, waiting to find out more about the tumour, at this point, we didn’t know if it was cancerous or not.“

In surgery, Reuben went into cardiac arrest twice, but the doctors kept trying everything that they could.

Ultimately, though, all their efforts were in vain.

Mike said: “We were hoping desperately they would be able to do something but after six days, following the advice from the doctors, we made the difficult decision to remove Reuben’s life support.

“He was a very poorly little boy and we understood that he had less than a 1% chance of recovering from what we found out to be a very rare aggressive cancer.

“Reuben was suffering from an ATRT, a brain tumour which we later discovered was 6cm in diameter and had grown rapidly in around six weeks.”

How was Reuben’s Retreat founded?

In the days leading up to Reuben’s death, Mike’s wife Nicola had already started coming up with the idea for Reuben’s Retreat and a way of creating a permanent legacy in her son’s name.

Before making the five-hour trip back to the North West, she told Mike what she wanted to do.

Mike said: “We wanted to donate Reuben’s organs to help others but couldn’t because of his multiple organ failure. This devastated us even more. Nicola didn’t want his death to be in vain so she came up with Reuben’s Retreat.

“Nicola reflected on the memories that had been made with Reuben as a family because we’d both worked in the travel industry and we’d been fortunate to have lots of holidays together. We wanted to give other families this same opportunity.

“She wanted to create a place for people to have memories with their children and support them through their death or complex needs.”

Reuben’s mum Nicola was determined to ensure her son would have a permanent legacy following his sudden death

Reuben’s Retreat started out in an office in Ashton-under-Lyne as somewhere families who had lost children could come for special bereavement counselling.

The family had realised that parents who had lost young children needed something specifically tailored to the grief they were experiencing.

Mike said: “We were offered bereavement counselling ourselves but it was with someone who dealt with deaths of older people, and what we’d experienced was totally different. It wasn’t what we needed.

“That’s when we knew there had to be more support for families like us. So we knew we needed to offer special counselling to families.

“The word spread like wildfire on social media, we had families reaching out to us for help and we were also overwhelmed with support.”

How did the charity develop its link with the Great Manchester Run?

Reuben’s Retreat supporters turned up at the Great Manchester Run in numbers to back the charity the year the toddler died, and after seeing the huge groups of Reublue go past Mike decided he wanted to get involved himself.

The 48-year-old said: ““I was with Isaac, who was five at the time, watching the race and I saw all these people in Reublue go past and I couldn’t believe it, I was overwhelmed. So I promised him I’d join them next year.

“I’d never run in my life, in fact, I couldn’t even run two minutes but I built it up and now I do it every year. The crowd in Manchester is amazing, they really cheer you on and create the atmosphere. I love the live music too!

“And every time one of us in Reublue runs past one another we pat them on the back and give them some motivation. It’s going to be even more special this year on our anniversary.”

Mike says mass-participation events like the Great Manchester Run have been massively important to bringing in money for Reuben’s Retreat.

He said: “No one has given Reuben’s Retreat a million, or even half a million pounds, but we’ve been able to get to where we are today from the small donations from hundreds and thousands of people.

“From Scouts to Brownies doing bake sales, to people doing races like the Great Manchester Run, we’ve managed to do so many amazing things we’re just so grateful to everyone for their support.

“You really see the beauty in people when you do something like Reuben’s retreat, people truly come together through terrible times to make a difference.”

How has the charity grown and what are its plans now?

In its first decade Reuben’s Retreat has grown massively and now employs nine full-time staff members. Today the charity supports around 500 people and in 10 years has helped more than 1, 400 individuals.

Starting out as a small grassroots charity, Reuben’s Retreat delivered 4,531 hours of support to families who were either going through bereavement or had children with complex illnesses in its last financial year alone.

In 2014 the charity purchased Wood’s Hospital in Glossop and is renovating it in stages so they can continue operating full-time while the work progresses.

Wood’s Hospital in Glossop, which Reuben’s Retreat is gradually renovating

Mike said: “It’s in the countryside because we wanted to give people respite from the city and a break from hospital walls.

“We have something for everyone, support for siblings, for mums, for dads and the children themselves. We know how different each person deals with trauma and so at Reuben’s, we really do try to have something for everyone. We even have a therapy dog, Dolly the Cavapoo, who everyone loves.

“There’s a range of things that we offer from support groups to counselling, to accommodation and last year we even got an accessible, special swimming pool with a hoist for children with disabilities.

“Last year a family came to use it and they’d never been in a pool with their daughter, it was the first time they’d all had skin-to-skin together and it was just beautiful to have facilitated that memory and moment for them.

“That was Nicola’s goal with Reubens to allow families to create special memories in spite of the tragic and complex things they may be going through.”

The charity is not content with its current offering, though, and has ambitious plans for the money it raises from this year’s Great Manchester Run.

Mike said: “We want to build five self-contained apartments for families to stay together - it’s a multi-million-pound project. We’ve come so far but we have a long way to go.”