Mission of mercy to create a breast cancer haven

This summer, a £2.2m appeal was launched to build a breast cancer Haven in Yorkshire. Catherine Scott met the woman whose vision it is and talked to those who it will help.

Sara Davenport is a determined woman.

When her nanny, Wendy, developed breast cancer 10 years ago, she was shocked by the lack of help and support she was given by the medics.

Many would have grumbled, maybe written a letter and got on with their lives. Not Sara Davenport.

"At first, I thought Wendy was just unlucky, but then I began to meet a lot of other people who had the same sort of stories to tell," says Sara. "I knew the NHS was hard-pressed but I could not believe that the system could be so chaotic and uncaring."

She started to investigate and found that there were a lot of different forms of support for cancer sufferers, but they were scattered in different places.

"What I felt was needed was a place where all the different forms of advice and help were all under one roof, free of charge, and where you would have the chance to talk to others who could understand what you were going through," says Sara.

She approached the existing breast cancer charities with her idea and offered to do the necessary fund-raising, but they were more interested in the research side of the disease, rather than the emotional support women affected needed.

"They kept telling me it wasn't needed, but I knew they were wrong. I soon realised that no-one else was going to move forward and that if I wanted it to happen,

I was going to have to do it myself."

But what really convinced her was when one woman told her to "go back to Chelsea and have a nice life". Sara Davenport does not like being told she can't do something.

"It really gets me irritated," she says defiantly. "Right then I say to myself: 'I'm going to show them'. That was the trigger."

At the time she was 34, with two young children, and was running an art gallery in London specialising in

19th century dog paintings. The only way she could pursue her dream was to sell her beloved gallery, something she had poured her life into for the previous 12 years.

"It was a terrible dilemma," she recalls. "I loved my gallery and it made me lots of money, but it was time for a change. As soon as I had sold it, I never gave it another thought."

People at first thought she was mad to give up the world she knew. She knew nothing about breast cancer or running a charity, but she is an eternal optimist and a firm believer in fate.

"I believe very strongly that when things are meant to happen, they happen easily. Doors open."

Two years later, she was looking for a building for her "Haven".

"It is very, very important to me that the premises have the right feeling, the right energy. I'm incredibly sensitive to that."

The first Haven was built in a derelict church in Fulham Broadway. Using her determination, charm and selling skills, Sara managed to get help to transform the church, opening her first Haven in 2000 – three years after she set up the charity.

But, realising her own limitations, Sara set up a board of trustees. "My talent is for starting things, not running them. I am one of the trustees." Also on the board is the Countess of Wessex, who launched the 2.2m appeal to open the Leeds Haven this summer.

When plans were mooted for the first northern Breast Cancer Haven to be opened in Leeds, Sara got on the train to check out the buildings for herself.

"I had never been to Leeds before and I was blown away by the energy. I have not felt that energy in a city outside of New York and Hong Kong. I had in mind an old building, but then I saw the Gateway. It was such an inspirational building with a great potential for healing."

She says Yorkshire was chosen for a number of reasons. Its high population density equates to a high number of breast cancer patients; there are 22 breast clinics in the county; there is currently no designated facility offering support and complementary therapies specifically for people with breast cancer and also, she says, the renowned generosity of Yorkshire people. And they will need that generosity if the Yorkshire Haven is to be a success; the charity relies solely on voluntary donations.

Having given up her day job to help others, Sara has had to find another source of income to help support her two teenage children, Sophie,17 and Alexia, 13.

She trained as a kinesiologist, working at the London Haven, and is starting her own property development company.

"I am a spiritual person," says Sara, "I believe we all

are in some way. But what I want to create is a safe haven for cancer patients, their partners and their children."

How to help create a leeds haven

It will cost 2.2m to buy and convert premises at The Gateway in Leeds into a Breast Cancer Haven.

Anyone diagnosed with breast cancer will be able to visit the Haven free of charge and receive information, advice, counselling and complementary therapies.

The charity receives no Government funding and is totally dependent on donations and fundraising

to meet its running costs. It has two years to raise the money.

The charity is looking for Yorkshire companies to help fund areas of the Haven.Scotfield, the developers of Gateway, have already given 400,000 towards the costs of fitting out the units and transforming the space into a Haven. The Haven is expected to be open for visitors from autumn 2008.

The first year's running costs have been secured from charity reserves.

Anyone interested in helping the Breast Cancer Haven Leeds should contact Julie Harrington, Yorkshire Appeal Manager on 0113 237 3017 or yorkshireappeal @breastcancerhaven.org.uk

For more information on Breast Cancer Haven visit, www. breastcancerhaven.org.uk

A safe place offering warmth, advice and support

Four Yorkshirewomen are helping to spearhead the fund-raising for a Breast Cancer Haven in Leeds.

All have been diagnosed with breast cancer and have their own emotional stories to tell about their experiences and why they feel a Haven is needed in Yorkshire.

They feature on a promotional DVD for the charity and visited the original Haven in London to see what it has to offer.

Janet Ford, 47, says: "Once you've walked through the door of the Haven, you feel safe. You can switch off. I found it quite amazing – you are with people who you have never met before but there's a bond there – everyone has been through the same experience."

When Leeds GP Dr Anne Cohen, 54, was first diagnosed with breast cancer 11 years ago, she had a difficult time. "Sometimes I was the doctor and sometimes I was the patient. I don't think anybody realised how hard it was for me," she says. "I would thoroughly recommend a visit to Breast Cancer Haven as an addition to recommended medical treatment."

Lesley Levy, 58, says after she was told she had breast cancer there was no mention of any emotional support.

"You can't tell your fears to your children and there is only so much you can say to your husband without having to worry him further. I found I had nowhere to turn."

After a visit to the London Haven, she said: "It was a wonderful feeling of envelopment and I felt I could just be me."

When mother of two Liz Lawrence, 56, was diagnosed with breast cancer 11 years ago, there was very little in the way of support.

"I could have done with somewhere like the Haven. It is a safe place and a place of warmth. The people are so lovely, it's a wonderful thing and there should be more."

Breast Cancer

The Facts

One in nine women develops breast cancer in the UK.

Nearly 250 women will die of breast cancer this week.

Men can get breast cancer, too.

More than 44,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. Eight per cent are from the Yorkshire and Humber region. This represents 3,520 women each year – wives, mothers, partners, daughters and sisters.