The Willow Foundation
The Willow Foundation organise Special Days for seriously ill young adults aged 16 to 40. The aim of the national charity is to enable those individuals and their families to focus on each other, reconnect and share once in a lifetime opportunities. The Special Days are often perceived as an opportunity to fulfil a lifelong dream, to create unique memories and to enjoy an uplifting, life-affirming experience when it is needed most.
During his treatment Neil read many of Ben Fogle’s epic adventures like ‘Race to the Pole’ and ‘The Crossing’. In fact ‘The Crossing’ was the first book that Neil read on his new kindle. He would come downstairs in the mornings and give the family an update on Ben Fogle and James Cracknell’s progress in their row across the Atlantic. It was then that Neil learnt of the many similarities between himself and the TV presenter/ adventurer. A challenge seeker, an optimist and someone with alarmingly huge amount of determination, Neil saw in Ben what he himself was striving to achieve – to live life to the full and to persevere against all odds in the face of adversity. The insight that Ben’s books gave into his character demonstrated the sheer courage it took to complete his challenges. Neil too wanted to show the world that despite having cancer and enduring the debilitating treatment regimes, you can still go on to achieve your goals. Neil therefore was not going to let cancer stop him from achieving the impressive tasks that he set himself.
When we were told about Willow, Neil had several ideas on what he would like to do with his Special Day. Although going to a Coldplay concert was high on the list, Neil quickly decided that he wanted to meet the man behind those words in the books, his inspiration; Ben Fogle. Willow was fantastic in tracking Ben down and identifying a suitable time for Neil to meet him. On 8th July 2014 Ben was taking part in a talk at London’s National History Museum. Neil, along with me, his sister Sarah, travelled to London the night before and stayed in a lovely hotel on the Southbank. Neil enjoyed room service (several times) and even managed to see some tourist attractions too – the London Dungeons was a funny experience.
Meeting Ben was incredible; I filmed most of their conversation and took plenty of photographs. It turned out that Ben was far more interested in learning about Neil than he was talking about himself. Neil on the other hand just wanted to hear all about Ben’s adventures. One particular question that stood out for me was when Neil asked Ben, “what kept you going whilst rowing the Atlantic, what was your motivation for not giving up?” Ben remarked on the fact that he had a stubborn streak (another thing they had in common), and he had a lot of people back home that were rooting for him, he didn’t want to let them down. Neil shared that drive to succeed, his motivation to help others and make his family proud inspired the many challenges he embarked upon.
The day was made even more special by the presence of some of the World’s leading adventurers and explorers; Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Kenton Cool and Olly Hicks were also speaking at the event that evening. Ben was kind enough to introduce Neil to them, Neil getting up from his wheelchair to shake hands with each of them. Neil even had Kenton Cool making a hot chocolate for him. Treated with such kindness, we truly had an unforgettable experience. The smile on Neil’s face was priceless; I will treasure the memories of that day forever. Thanks to Willow, Neil was able to fulfil his aspiration of meeting Ben, but also enjoy two days in London (he hadn’t been before). We are very thankful to Willow for organising a truly extraordinary day for Neil.
For more information on the Willow Foundation please click here.