Ripple Retreat offers haven for Scots families affected by cancer

The Ripple Retreat, which has opened on the shores of Loch Venachar in The Trossachs
The Ripple Retreat, which has opened on the shores of Loch Venachar in The Trossachs
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When it opened in May 2017, the Ripple Retreat, on the shores of Loch Venachar, joined the ranks of one of the most amazing buildings in Scotland in location and design, but its purpose is impressive too.

Designed by Kettle Collective Architects, the house is a holiday home for families with children undergoing cancer treatment, or those recently bereaved.

Anthony and Sacha Whiteside and their children Laila and Miles on a boat trip on Loch Katrine

Anthony and Sacha Whiteside and their children Laila and Miles on a boat trip on Loch Katrine

Sacha and Anthony Whiteside’s daughter was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia two years ago when she was just seven and after two years of intense treatment, the family, who live near Loanhead, were one of the first to stay at the Ripple Retreat in the autumn.

Sacha Whiteside says: “We went to stay over four days at the end of October and we spent Laila’s ninth birthday there, with our son Myles who is about to turn seven.

“It felt like a landmark to reach her birthday and her request was to spend time with us, somewhere with views and nature and so the Ripple Retreat came to mind.

“It was a fantastic surprise for her and it came at a perfect moment for us because after the hell we had been through we had all really begun to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

The Ripple Retreat, which has opened on the shores of Loch Venachar in The Trossachs

The Ripple Retreat, which has opened on the shores of Loch Venachar in The Trossachs

While their stay at the Ripple Retreat does not mark the end of their journey – Laila is in remission but will not finish treatment, which has included intense chemotherapy and regular lumbar punctures, until March – Whiteside says that it was a hugely significant few days for them all.

“We felt that we could take stock, re-evaluate. It gave the children time to be outside, to play and enjoy things together again.

“Meanwhile, we could chill out wherever we wanted to be, inside or out and hear the children laughing. There was nothing to do with treatment for four days.”

The charity provided vouchers for excursions during their stay including a boat trip on Loch Katrine on the Sir Walter Scott.

Whiteside says of the house: “It is absolute bliss, a tranquil, peaceful place to gather all your thoughts together again. We were absolutely blessed to be there and even after we came home everything felt so much lighter and much happier and that feeling has carried on.”

The Ripple Retreat was the brainchild of the Edinburgh- based charity It’s Good 2 Give, run by Lynne and Ian McNicoll, but for such a spectacular building the charity had relatively modest beginnings.

Lynne McNicoll began fundraising for the Teenage Cancer Trust as something different to do for her 50th birthday, but in 2010 started It’s Good 2 Give specifically to provide practical help to families with children undergoing cancer treatment.

She says: “I’d got to know many families and saw how split up they’d been during treatment with one parent in hospital and the other at home.”

They were asked by dieticians at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh to provide daily snacks on to the ward for parents as well as patients. The charity also offers ironing vouchers to take the burden of household chores, and workshops in everything from cookery to arts and crafts for cancer patients and their families.

It’s Good 2 Give still supplies such support, but McNicoll also had a dream of building a retreat where affected families could take a few days out of the grind of treatment and spend quality time together.

Seven years on, she says that the Ripple Retreat is beyond anything she could have envisaged but the success has owed a large part to serendipity.

She says: “It has come from meeting the right people at the right moment and it snowballed beyond our wildest dreams.”

From the donation of land in the Trossachs National Park to the design, materials and fit out of the retreat, the charity has received an extraordinary amount of help and support in the intervening years.

But the success is also down to Lynne’s communication skills in putting over her vision and encouraging people to help. She says: “It is also a bit about being nice. If you can just tell people about what you are trying to do, and they like the idea and importantly, like the way you are doing it, then they are more inclined to buy in.”

What is perhaps more extraordinary is that during the time that the McNicolls were fundraising, they suffered the death of Ian’s son Andrew in a cycling accident in 2012 and Lynne herself was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 from which she is now recovering.

She insists, however, that continuing her work throughout the difficult times has not only benefited the charity, but herself.

She says: “Once we got through them, we used those experiences to make what we do in the charity even better. Andrew’s death is the reason we added in that we wanted bereaved families to stay at the retreat, because of our own experience.

“Fundraising is something to focus on other than what you are going through.”

Her belief that getting involved in helping others is good for you has led her to start a young ambassadors programme for the charity.

“If you can become involved in something that helps others it is beneficial to you as well, both your health and your soul. Being part of something bigger than you will help you tackle adversity in your own life and I believe our young ambassadors will benefit.”

Sacha Whiteside, who is a parent ambassador for the charity, agrees. She has been involved in physical challenges to raise money for charities involved in Laila’s care and this year will be taking part in a Kiltwalk in aid of It’s Good 2 Give. She says: “It gives me something other than the illness to focus on.

“The whole experience [of having a child diagnosed with cancer] is shocking and you have to take it one day at a time.

“But we were delighted that Lynne has asked us to be parent ambassadors for the charity. Being able to speak at events to help others understand what the money is going to, thank people for their support and spread the word, is an honour.”