It has long been a dream but then this time last year I was about to head off on the Camino Portugues and just before I left I noticed that the Joys of Life Centre in Bethesda was up for sale. Given that casually looking for property I can’t afford has been a lifelong hobby of mine why should this be any different? I don’t know; I had a browse around the listing and thought not too much more about it but once my boots hit the pilgrim trail in the pouring Portuguese rain and driving Atlantic wind there was only one thought in my mind. “The Joys of Life would make an amazing hospice”. At every chapel on the Way I would light a candle and the vision and image just got stronger and stronger. In fact, it was really quite distracting because I thought of nothing else for the entire pilgrimage.
In July last year I ran my End of Life doula training course from my home and 11 incredible people came and joined me in our explorations of death and dying. In the course of the weekend I shared my vision for creating an environmentally sustainable community with a good death at its heart and I also cheekily shared that I thought the Joys of Life was it. What I didn’t expect to happen was for a number of those present to say “let’s make it happen!” and thus this journey stopped being me and my head and my dreams and has started to take form.
The first thing I did was contact the Joys of Life directly and explain that while we had no funds we had a vision and we were welcomed there and given the VIP tour! It was astounding for us to learn that the couple that own and run it were once a surgeon and palliative care nurse before they retired; these “coincidences” are always incredibly validating. And from there the team formed and now there are 7 of us and a volunteer bookkeeper. We formed a community interest company or CIC and have opened a bank account with the ethical bank Triodos.
The momentum and energy driving this project is humbling. We feel the need to move quickly to secure the property as the current owners have lots of interest in it.
Our vision is that we will become the stewards of this property for the benefit of our locality and to offer to the world a model of end of life care that is in right relationship with both the land and local community. This is not a medical hospice. The term hospice has its roots in the concept of hospitality (in fact the pilgrim paths are full of old hospices like Ysybyty Ifan for example). This is a home from home where care is holistic and people can die surrounded by nature and those that love them.
In addition to hospice beds we will also offer retreat and respite, a learning resource, gathering spaces and woodland burial. We have a dream to create using sustainable building methods a great circular community hall called Tomen y Crannog – the mound of sanctuary – where human stories of life and love can weave with the myths and echoes of the snowdonia landscape. We have asked Dafydd Davies Hughes the visionary who has created such a beautiful and sacred space at Felin Uchaf to be our architect and builder for the Tomen y Crannog project.
Although the name Joys of Life, for some, is the ideal name for a hospice we will in fact be renaming the land Tirioni which implies a tender caring space. Little is known amongst the Bethesda community itself about this mysterious woodland and lake but it is actually only a 10 minute walk from the centre of Bethesda over the mighty river Ogwen through ancient oak woodland. In the coming weeks and months we will be holding Death Cafes in and around Bethesda with the intention of furthering the community conversation about death and dying; deepening, we hope, the awareness locally of what it is that is emerging and evolving on the land.
We have launched a crowdfunding campaign with FundRazr the link to which can be found through our facebook group (look for Hosbis Daear / Earth Hospice) or on our website www.hosbisdaear.cymru. We seek to raise half a million with a stretch target of 1 million and we fully believe this can come from many thousands people who share our passion who can contribute what they can financially but join us in vision to be part of a global shift in how we serve the dying.