Just a few minutes walk away from the peaceful shores of Rutland Water and hidden down a gravelled track surrounded by trees lies Harley’s House.
Opened a year ago, Harley’s House offers holidays to children battling cancer - but more than that, it is a tribute to a very special little boy - Harley Staples, who is now helping families create memories to cherish forever.
Since it was opened by Harley’s parents Katherine and Jamie Staples, the wooden cabin at Rutland Retreats - opposite Barnsdale Lodge - has hosted more than 40 families.
Harley’s House is deceptively large and has space for up to six people. It is a tranquil space for families going through the worst time of their lives and it is something Katherine and Jamie know only too well.
In January 2009, their first son Harley was diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia, accompanied by a tennis-ball sized tumour on his chest when he was just seven years old.
There was nothing to suggest such a diagnosis was forthcoming. Harley had complained momentarily of some pain in his leg and when he didn’t feel better, the doctor referred him for tests at Leicester Royal Infirmary.
“From the moment we got the diagnosis, everything changed forever,” Katherine recalls. “We just couldn’t quite believe it. There had been nothing to pinpoint it.”
Up until his diagnosis, Harley had been an active little boy, who played lots of different sports, and a talented drummer. He was popular and could converse as easily with adults as he could with his peers, despite his age.
Even during months of treatment at Leicester Royal Infirmary, Harley kept a smile on his face and even continued to develop his musical talents - albeit on a games console instead of his drum kit waiting at the family home in Blaby, Leicester.
“He was absolutely incredible. Despite every treatment he had, he never said ‘why me?’ and we still laughed whenever we could. We had as much fun as we could,” Katherine said.
“We knew we had a big battle against this but we never gave up and I never thought I was going to lose him. And Harley never went to pieces even though he had every right to.”
Despite gruelling treatment and an operation to try and remove the tumour, Katherine and Jamie were given the devastating news that nothing more could be done for their little boy at the end of September 2009. They were determined to make their last moments together memorable and enjoyed a family holiday in Overstrand in Norfolk at a caravan owned by Harley’s grandad.
Harley also got to meet his footballing heroes including David Beckham and Tom from the band Kasabian.
Harley lost his battle on November 1, 2009.
Despite their heartbreak, Katherine and Jamie were determined to turn a negative into a positive.
Friends and family had already been fundraising during Harley’s battle incase the family needed support and building on that, Katherine and Jamie immediately turned their attention to fundraising with the aim of putting a smile on the face of children fighting cancer.
The Harley Staples Cancer Trust was founded in 2010 and events to raise funds have included a festival which ran for four years, cake sales, and 40 people have carried out parachute jumps in Harley’s memory.
The couple set an initial target of half a million pounds with the aim of buying a house for holidays. One of their immediate purchases was the caravan in Overstrand where they made their own precious memories and they even had the chance to broach the idea of buying it for other families with Harley in his final days.
“It was a really special time for us making memories in the caravan so we know ourselves the value of that time,” says Katherine.
When the couple had hit £250,000, they entered a national competition being run by Persimmon Homes to win a house worth £250,000 and after weeks of canvassing for votes, the couple won - and the developer kindly offered to sell the house on and handed over a cheque.
Remarkably after months of searching - and when looking for a family home in Rutland - the couple came across Rutland Retreats by chance and the cabin that is now Harley’s House cost £250,000.
The couple hit their fundraising target and have money in the bank to pay for the ongoing maintenance fees for both the house at Barnsdale Lodge - with Katherine full of praise for the support staff at the hotel have given - and the caravan they own in Overstrand. But they are always looking to continue fundraising and hope Harley’s House will be a legacy for their first-born well into the future.
Inside Harley’s House, a welcome hamper filled with essentials like milk and bread greets visitors while a folder is packed with ideas for spots to visit nearby - although of course many families who visit are looking for a relaxing break. One of the fundraising efforts was a recipe book and Harley’s Cookbook - both sweet and savoury versions - are packed with ideas for guests to create a family meal.
But Katherine wants to continue to develop it with a small outdoor playarea and garden.
She decided to share her story with the Mercury so more families would become aware of Harley’s House. So far guests have learned about it through the charity’s website and a newsletter cascaded by Clic Sargent.
Many guests have been from the local area, who are keen for a break from the norm but don’t want to travel too far away from hospitals.
“It is fantastic to have Harley’s House and the support we have had over the years has always blown us away.
“I think helping families to create some nice memories at what I know is a terrible, terrible time is the least we can do,” Katherine says.
It is clear from the comments left in the guestbook that it is doing exactly what it set out to -helping families create cherished memories.
“When we see the comments in the guestbook, it makes it all worthwhile”
Harley was desperate for a little brother and sister - a wish he sadly didn’t get to see fulfilled. But Katherine and Jamie, who moved to Whissendine last year, are now parents to Gabriel, now five, and Annabelle, two.
The couple believe that small breaks are just as important for siblings going through a tough time while their parents spend time at hospital.
“Harley lives on through his brother and sister,” says Katherine. “We try to make him proud every single day.”
n To find out more about Harley’s House or if you would like to help the charity in any way visit www.harleystaples.co.uk