Herefordshire People: Herefordshire Life Meets Sara Davenport
PUBLISHED: 11:58 14 January 2011 | UPDATED: 15:38 20 February 2013
Anne Dixey went to meet Sara Davenport, founder of Breast Cancer Haven, as the charity celebrates the opening of its third centre, in Leeds.
Herefordshire is the spiritual home of Sara Davenport. Here she can hole up in her Mansell Lacy farmhouse or take a tranquil walk through the woods. It is this same sense of wellbeing that flows through the work of Breast Cancer Haven, the charity Sara founded eight years ago to offer free support and complementary therapies to the thousands of people diagnosed with the disease every year.
The London Haven, where her dream was first realised, is an oasis of calm, just minutes away from the urban bustle of Fulham Broadway. It is run from a beautifully converted former chapel, where stained glass windows and wall hangings catch the eye as women, some in post-chemo headscarves, wait on comfy sofas next to fresh flowers and piles of magazines.
In the background is the gentle sound of a water feature and the friendly chat between new arrivals and Haven workers. Stacks of leaflets outline the vast range of treatments and workshops on offer for both body and soul. The mood is warm and positive.
Into this happy scene walks Sara Davenport, fresh from carrying out a muscle testing treatment, and without whom none of this would have happened.
She was working as an art dealer in London when the nanny to her two daughters was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"She had such a rubbish time," Sara remembers. "I originally thought she was unlucky and then I started meeting people who had had the same experience. I thought of how I would like it to be and tried to persuade existing organisations to take on my ideas, but they said it didn't need to happen.
"In the end, I thought I would have regretted it and been a coward if I hadn't done something."
At the root of her idea was a strongly held belief in treating "the whole person" - giving the emotional support that the health service didn't have time to do. Sara's vision was timely.
Breast cancer incidence rates have increased by more than 50 per cent over the last 25 years, making it the most common cancer in the UK. In 2005, more than 45,500 women were diagnosed with the disease, around 125 women a day. (About 300 men are also diagnosed each year.)
Haven users hear about it from hospital doctors, Macmillan nurses, the media and word-of-mouth. The first step is to have a consultation with a nurse to work out, hand-in-hand with the medical profession, a programme for each individual.
"In hospital there is very little time," Sara says. "You don't get your questions answered. Here we offer time to be talked to and heard. You cannot dump all the emotional stuff on families. They are all terrified."
She believes that emotional trauma can play a part in triggering the illness in some people. Haven staff help them to deal with this, working to alleviate both the mental and physical side effects of the cancer.
"Some people want help and advice as soon as they have a diagnosis. There are others who come in after their treatment in hospital."
Each new patient is encouraged to join the relaxation retreat day and take advantage of 12 individual therapy sessions. They range from acupuncture to homeopathy, massage and shiatsu. With a long commitment to therapy, Sara now specialises in pinpointing emotional issues through muscle testing and treats what she finds in a number of ways, including using herbal medicine and magnets.
Women and men from a wide range of social backgrounds, from council estates to the affluent streets of West London, pass through the Haven's doors. They hail from as far away as India, the Caribbean and Australia.
Sara could have decided to be satisfied with her successful London venture - the charity has provided nearly 70,000 hours of therapy time since opening in 2000 and helps an average of 650 new people a year - but she was determined to bring the service to Herefordshire too. It is after all the county she calls home, where she grew up, where her daughters - now 14 and 18 - experienced country life with ponies and dogs and where aunts, uncles and cousins still live.
"It is an amazing county," she believes, "and relatively untouched, it's incredible. It's so tranquil and beautiful. Every time I go I think it.
"I felt so strongly that Herefordshire should have a Haven." Whereas other organisations opt for higher population areas to open a new centre, she was determined Herefordshire shouldn't lose out because of its size. Sara's faith and determination quickly paid off. "We were welcomed with open arms," she says.
The Hereford Haven, which mirrors its London counterpart in the environment and programmes it offers, opened in January 2004 at St Owen Street, Hereford. The venue is the old Percival Hall building which formerly hosted community classes as well as gigs and theatre. Sara has been bowled over by the local response.
She says: "People have been incredibly supportive, they've really taken it to their hearts - it's been amazing. They've raised way more than I could have hoped for."
She singles out 81-year-old Moira Starkey from Storridge, who has raised over 6,000 for the Haven with local events like coffee mornings and dances as well as sales of jams and pickles. Local postmen Mike Chandler and Glyn Jones have also done the Haven proud, raising 20,000 by delivering fundraising letters and cycling across the Pennines on their post bikes.
But with no government funding, Breast Cancer Haven constantly has to look for sources of money to stay in existence. The Hereford Haven is organising two events this month (December) - a sale of paintings by caricaturist Sue Macartney-Snape at Harewood Park on the 5th and a carol service at St Peter's Church, Hereford, on the 15th. It is partly thanks to these local fundraising efforts that Hereford Haven has been able to help well over 1000 people.
Herefordshire businesses like Tom Dickins Fine Art, based at Stretton Grandison, near Ledbury, offer long term support through the sale of Christmas cards. Profits from the sale of Herefordshire-made scented candles are also being donated to Breast Cancer Haven. This year's target is 10,000.
The generosity of spirit which many people demonstrate through fundraising and donating money or goods is an inspiration for Sara. "We have incredible people who go out of their way to help. They say how cynical people are but they really put themselves out for us."
Her own warmth, charm and unwavering commitment to the Haven cause also undoubtedly play a significant part in recruiting supporters. It has a key backer in its patron the Prince of Wales, a long term advocate of complementary medicine. But, as for other small charities without official funding, the economic downturn is worrying.
"Events are an important source of our funding," Sara says. "Already not so many tables are selling and people are not bidding as much at auctions."
And what about competition from the three other main breast cancer charities? Sara believes they can continue to co-exist as they fulfil different roles. "We don't overlap with anybody. We are the only one that offers a physical place. Everyone else backs conventional healthcare and all are involved in research."
Haven notice boards carry information on services that the other charities provide and there is no sense that they are competing. "Our chief executives talk," Sara says. "All everybody is trying to do is help the person who has the cancer."
And there is no question over need. Female breast cancer incidence rates in the UK have increased by 13 per cent in the last ten years, with 8 in 10 diagnoses in women aged 50 and over. Now 8 out of 10 survive beyond five years - in the 70s it was nearer 5 out of 10.
Recession aside, the future is bright for Breast Cancer Haven. They recently won the Healing Spaces Award from the British Holistic Medical Association in recognition of the environment they have created for patients, using architecture and interior design.
This October, the third Haven opened its doors in Leeds at the Gateway building, an iconic new development. Girls Aloud star Kimberley Walsh went along to the event to support her former dance teacher Deana Morgan, who has recently been treated for breast cancer. The new centre will offer 12,500 appointments a year to help people in the area after a massive fundraising effort by the local business community and individuals.
For those who are too far from a Haven to experience the first person care, a new DVD has been developed thanks to a 149,945 donation from BUPA Giving. Introduced by actress Amanda Mealing, it answers questions, gives practical advice and demonstrates useful exercises. An audio CD is also available.
And for the future? The inspirational Sara Davenport wants even more people to benefit from the charity's healing touch. "I ideally want another two or three Havens. It would be good if everyone was within an hour and a half driving distance from one.....eight or nine Havens would be great!"
For more information on event tickets, fundraising and volunteering, call the Hereford Haven on 01432 361061 or go to the charity's website www.breastcancerhaven.org.uk