A year ago today we published the moving obituary of Richard Garrett, written by his wife of 26 years, Emma.
Richard had fought cancer for nine years, having been diagnosed in 2009, but sadly lost his battle on 22 December 2018.
Emma Garrett is a local businesswoman, well known for taking the initiative having set up the Kiosk at the Park and The Pavilion at the Park at a time when Bedford had no park cafés.
Since moving to Bedford in 2008, she has also been President of the Bedfordshire BusinessWomen networking group, set up a social media business and is a Deputy Lieutenant of Bedfordshire.
She is also the driving force behind the SoupFest initiative.
We caught up with Emma one year on, to ask about how these past months have been as she has navigated her grief, to hear about her epic fundraising efforts and her latest challenge, as well as the decisions she has made recently to leave Bedford and head back to her beloved Sussex.
It’s hard to know where to start. I has been quite a year for you hasn’t it. How have you coped?
I couldn’t have got through this year without the support of family and friends. Having five kids, and a dog, has meant that I have had to keep going – children need feeding, laundry needs doing and the dog needs walking.
Having a big family has been a godsend. It has meant there is always a light on at home, bags cast aside in the hall, shoes strewn around the sitting room, cereal packets left on the counter, sweet wrappers in every nook and cranny – just very basic day-to-day reality which has been reassuring and lifesaving.
It has also meant that there is always someone to talk to and share those happy memories and silly stories with.
Another lifesaver has been the friends who set up a WhatsApp group while Richard was still alive which has been incredible – a strong, wise, funny, loving group of women who have guided me, comforted me, sent me photos, poems, memories, it has been totally invaluable.
Friends from across the globe are on the group so there is always someone, somewhere awake, and able to listen.
Friends also left voice messages which I can access any time – it means I can really feel their presence and sense their love. I had an endless supply of lasagne, chocolate and red wine on the doorstep which helped keep us all going.
I’ve also had incredible support at both my cafés with customers, suppliers, and my team rallying around to keep things going in my absence.
I’ve walked and walked and walked. I’ve discovered podcasts. I’ve travelled. I’ve written a blog. I’ve howled into the wind.
I’ve basically been running away from the reality and the enormity of losing my husband of 26 years. I know I will have to face it sometime but for now, it’s survival which is key.
When you say you’ve walked and walked – you have actually raised a lot of money at the same time haven’t you? Tell us a bit about your fundraising?
Well, when Rich was dying in the Sue Ryder St John’s Hospice at Moggerhanger, he said to me – I don’t want you to do any fundraising in my memory, but if you do, can you please do it for the Hospice, the Primrose Unit at Bedford Hospital and the Bobby Moore fund, all of which were so important to him.
He knew me well enough to know that I would do just that and so Challenge 51 was born. Rich was just 51 when he died, as was Bobby Moore who also had bowel cancer, hence Challenge 51, raising £51,000 by undertaking 51 challenges in honour of Rich, and that is what family and friends have been doing.
There have been all sorts of achievements – climbing Mont Blanc, cycling across South Africa, swimming across Coniston Water, running the London Marathon, the Three Peaks, the Great North Run and the Oxford Half Marathon.
My sister and I hiked half way around Jersey, 9 of us walked from Brighton to Eastbourne, 134 of us ran the Bedford 10km, my youngest daughter and 30 friends did the Starlight Hike for Sue Ryder, the list goes on to include mufti days at schools, rugby dinners, and even a gin tasting night – it is both inspirational and humbling.
My latest challenge is to hike up Mount Kenya which I am doing at the end of February with 11 friends. It is going to be quite an adventure.
And what next, what will you do when the fundraising is done? Will you create some time for you?
Everybody keeps telling me I need ‘me’ time but I’m not very good at that, however I have made some big decisions.
I’m not a Bedfordian, and even though I have spent the last 10 years here and have grown very fond of certain aspects of the town, I am going to move ‘home’ to Sussex in the summer of next year. It’s where I grew up and where Richard and I were both at school together.
It was always our intention to head back that way to be nearer to our family, and nearer to the sea.
Having grown up in Eastbourne and spent every summer with grandparents in Jersey, having lived on the Gold Coast in Australia and the island state of Bahrain, it was always ironic that we found ourselves in Bedford – the most landlocked county in England.
I really miss the coast and the sussex downs and I feel I will be at peace once I am back there.
Obviously this means that I have had to think about my businesses in Bedford and what will happen to them.
I am fortunate to have found buyers for both the Kiosk at the Park and the Pavilion at the Park, and subject to the council’s agreement, both businesses will change hands in the coming weeks.
I am thrilled that both will continue in the same vein with a focus on excellent customer service, a real sense of being part of the community and with locally sourced ingredients, freshly baked cakes and lots of events…
I am proud of what I have built in terms of people-focussed destination cafés, of the awards I have won, the team I have built and the life that has been brought back to both Russell Park and Bedford Park and while I will still be consulting at The Pavilion for a short while, I need to step away now.
Ultimately I feel I need to focus on the kids, to guide them and support them as they too come to grips with the earth shattering impact of of the death of their Dad.
I want to keep his memory alive for the family – he was an incredible man and must not be forgotten.
In order to do this I feel I must leave Bedford and create some space in my life. Being here and being so busy with the businesses and the kids has been a welcome distraction from the enormity of Rich’s death but I need to face it now and try to move on.
If you haven’t already got your #TeamGarrett shirt please purchase your vest directly from No Limitz.
This link: https://www.nolimitzshop.co.uk/team-garrett-40-c.asp will take you directly to the order form for the shirt.
No Limitz have very kindly agreed to donate £5 from the sale of every vest to the Challenge 51 Charities in Richard’s name. Their phone number is: 01234 350720