TruGreen Cardiff: Trekking for Marie Curie Hospice
Tom Page from ServiceMaster Brands UK sat down with Michelle and Peter Lewis to discuss their past and recent fundraising treks to raise money for their local Marie Curie hospice.
Michelle and Peter Lewis, owners of TruGreen Cardiff, the Vale and Bridgend, have recently completed a trek across Patagonia to support Marie Curie, raising £217’000 as part of a trekking group.
Michelle and Peter first completed a trek for their local hospice in April 2014 after the passing of Peter’s father, Terry, from Pulmonary Fibrosis.
Pulmonary Fibrosis is a condition that creates thickening of the lungs, causing them to lose flexibility and leading to patients becoming slowly unable to breathe.
Peter said that it was described to him as “the hardening of the lung walls and the way [his father] described it was that it was like his lungs were filled up with cotton wool.”
Pulmonary Fibrosis is an incurable disease that doctors often cannot find a cause for. Peter’s father’s condition slowly worsened over some years.
In 2014, “Not many people had been diagnosed with it before,” says Peter.
“So, my father knew it was terminal, he volunteered to take lots of different test drugs so that he could try and help people in the future.”
As a result, he spent a lot of time being cared for in the Marie Curie Hospice in Penarth, near where the family lives and works.
“Sometimes the drugs wouldn’t agree with him. So, they would take them into Marie Curie Hospice to reset his drug pattern and give my mother some respite,” Peter says.
“The hospice was just amazing, the nurses were amazing, and they gave him dignity at the end of his life,” he says.
“I think why we were so impressed by Marie Curie is that at the same time that they were dealing with Pete’s dad’s passing, which was really traumatic, next door they had a 100-year-old lady having a birthday party and this nurse was having to like switch modes. It was just incredible.”
“I said you know, ‘What could we do to help you?’” she recalls.
“And as we were leaving, after my father passed away, they were just putting up a poster on the wall for a trip to Machu Picchu to do the Inca Trail to raise funds for the hospice,” Peter adds.
And [the nurse] said, ‘Well, there’s two of us on duty today and this is our job so this is what we do. If you want to help, maybe you can fundraise.’ That’s why she pointed to the poster,” Michelle says.
“So, we straightaway volunteered and me, Michelle and my youngest son, Sean, went on that Machu Picchu trek,” Peter says. “Which was our first outing.”
Michelle and Peter are so well suited to running their TruGreen business because they are both self-described “outdoorsy people.”
“If we could live outside, we would live outside,” Michelle says.
“We’ve always walked mountains. In Brecon, we enjoy walking Pen y Fan.”
Michelle describes Machu Picchu as “a really, really tough” trek, particularly due to the altitude.
Not that it seemed to bother the locals!
“In Machu Picchu, we had Sherpas that brought the tents and all the cooking equipment with us – they even cooked up a sponge cake at the summit. Goodness knows how they did it on a little portable stove!” she says. “They were incredible and they only had sandals on!”
But the experience and money raised inspired the Lewis family to continue to trek for the hospice. Leading to their next outing: Sri Lanka.
Michelle describes the people they met there as “Just the kindest people in all the world.”
“They didn’t like to tell you bad news,” she says. “So, every time you said ‘how long to go?’ they’d say 30 minutes, and normally it was 7 or 8 hours!
You just got used to Sri Lankan time, as we called it,” she jokes.
Through the people the pair have met trekking, Michelle and Peter have connected with people they never imagined meeting, including celebrity trekkers, and even people who have become part of the family.
It was in Sri Lanka they also met a Marie Curie nurse whom they thought had a large amount in common with Peter’s eldest son.
“Just as a joke, we exchanged details and Pete was like Tinder,” Michelle laughs.
“And then at Christmas time, we had a photo sent through from the pair of them saying, ‘Mum and Dad, you were right, we are an item!’ And now they live together, very happy. They’re developing their new home, and they’ve just bought a dog together!”
Following Sri Lanka, the pair trekked Vietnam, where they walked the Chinese north border and went to Ho Chi Minh City.
Michelle says this was especially interesting as they got to see first-hand: “The Vietnam War through the perspective of the Vietnamese.
Which is very different to what we’ve been taught, as you can imagine. And so that was very moving in different sorts of ways,” she says.
Michelle says that all the treks have brought them experiences they wouldn’t have had otherwise, even as tourists. Particularly in how they connected with the other people around them.
“We trekked once in Vietnam and the locals warmed up buckets of water for our feet when we got back using valuable wood resources to heat the water. You get touched by the smallest things like hot water and realise they aren’t small things at all. That was lovely.”
It’s at this point that Michelle pauses and pats her chest.
“I’m getting very emotional thinking about it,” she says.
“But you know, these villagers in our terms, have very little and yet were willing to share food water and shelter. It makes you really grateful.”
Michelle says the treks are very therapeutic in nature as you get stripped back.
“It’s quite transformative because there’s time to think,” she says.
“As you’re walking in a procession, you haven’t got eye contact, people almost have like a stream of consciousness.
All sorts of stuff comes out of people that they don’t even know they’re thinking.”
She says that it was on one of the treks that she and Peter decided to give up their previous lives working in IT banking, which led to them starting their TruGreen business.
“We were just talking about how much we hated our lives in IT and how stressful it was. That was the trigger that ‘we should go and do something different.’ And that was TruGreen.”
Michelle and Peter have recently completed a trek across Patagonia, which Michelle says was nothing like she imagined.
“It’s like a desert!” she says.
“I thought we’d have cowboys, cows, gauchos, and lush, green fields. But it’s like the Grand Canyon.”
But what has been amazing about this experience for Michelle and Peter is encountering the thriving Welsh community in Patagonia.
Alongside the Spanish language and traditions, this small but thriving community still preserve both the Welsh language and many older customs and traditions, that are now even lost to the majority of the native Welsh population.
Michelle says that a large number of the trekking group were North Walian Welsh speakers who were able to track their heritage within this community across the globe to Argentina.
“They speak better Welsh than we do,” Michelle says.
“It’s purer. Ours has drifted because more people are speaking it, but because they’re a small community, their Welsh is very pure old Welsh.”
She says that got very emotional for many on the Trek, especially when observing the school children singing welsh hymns and songs and welsh dances and when the group were hosted for a welsh tea party with Barra Brith.
The Lewis family’s fundraising efforts for Marie Curie span 8 years and much of the globe.
Their most recent trek has raised an amazing £217,000 as a group, and over the years, Michelle and Peter have collectively raised nearly £60,000 alongside Peter’s mum.
“She was with Terry since she was 13 years of age,” Michelle says.
“So, when she lost him, she lost her soulmate.”
Alongside Michelle and Peter’s fundraising, Peter’s mother raises money in Terry’s memory and gives back to the hospice by making and selling crafts.
“She makes the most amazing quilts and cushions… and marmalade!” Michelle says.
Michelle has also raised money at home and connected with their local community. She recalls a particular standout:
“A gentleman that owns a local castle let me borrow for an afternoon tea.”
“The journey takes you to meet some incredible people,” she says.
Peter says that they’re extremely grateful for how Marie Curie helped them and his father and that he and Michelle will support them for as long as possible.
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