30th Birthday Celebrations
David Tredinnick MP, who heads the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Integrated Healthcare, was guest of honour at a celebration of the 30th birthday held for the Letchworth Centre for Healthy Living, the region’s leading centre for complementary health and wellbeing, which took place on 7th September. Over 150 people attended the Garden Party. Over the years, more than 50,000 local people have attended its clinics, a further 25,000 its classes, while its programmes and lectures for health professionals have drawn more than 2,000 nurses and doctors and impacted nationally.
Centre Director, Roberta Meldrum, gave the following speech:
Many of you are here today because of your unique historical connection with the Centre and what it represents and has represented. It is difficult to put that essence into words – but I know that you felt it and have been drawn to the Centre because of it…
You’re a right motley crew, you are – In looking back I am awed by the wonder of you all – such special people who have for brief (and not so brief) periods, worked within or outside our organisation…
To each and every one of you, I want to say how moved I am by your presence here today – and how clear I am that your involvement, your support, your connection has both enriched my own life and ensured the Centre’s survival and growth over these thirty years.
This is a very special occasion for me -- and I know that is true for many of you here as well –some of whom have travelled hundreds of miles in order to be here… It is a celebration of 30 years of effort, often struggle, by dedicated and committed people to manifest and keep alive a vision: a belief that life can be better, that decline is not inevitable, that there ARE ways of improving health, mobility and wellbeing that don’t just involve pills or the surgeon’s knife.
The journey has not – and is still not – an easy one. Life is not easy for any pioneering individual or organisation. And in our small (and maybe not so small) way, we have been a pioneer.
It feels important – for those of you whose involvement was from long ago – or for those whose involvement has only recently -- or not yet begun – to sketch out a rather potted history of the Centre over these three decades.
We began in a Letchworth dining room – in the house of the late Vera Roth, after whom we have named our main building – full of optimism for the future, with the belief that our limited aim (to provide affordable homeopathic medicine at low cost) would, be widely welcomed and supported . That of course was not to be.
1984 was a time when complementary approaches were viewed as ‘fringe’ and ‘quackbusters’ posed a very real threat to its practitioners -- when homeopathic doctors who simply shared a lecture stage with non-medical homeopaths ran the risk of being struck off the medical register. Despite this, the Centre worked with passion to make people aware of the benefits of homeopathy and complementary medicine as a whole – and we worked on many levels: that of the general public; of health professionals; of government and of voluntary organisations.
In order to try and raise the funds we needed – for after 6 months we moved to a rent-charging Letchworth Settlement with a salaried receptionist – we went through the necessary hoops and gained charitable status – and this rather regal ‘we’ was really the newly retired ex-ceo of what was then the Letchworth Garden City Corporation – who was just one of a remarkable line of remarkable people who ‘got’ what we were about and tirelessly worked to help us achieve it.
By this point – we were joined by a second doctor, and by an osteopath who treated the many patients suffering back problems – but most significantly at this point we added classes to teach people ways of helping themselves to better health…
And here again, we were ahead of our time. One of our nature-cure schooled doctors hypothesized that a then little-known factor which he called stress could be preventing people from recovering as quickly as might otherwise have been expected – and he suggested that meditation might be a tool for reducing it… The meditation groups we organised were full to capacity – as were our gestalt psychotherapy groups and the Alexander classes we set up to teach people better posture and ways of moving so as to reduce back pain and the likelihood of back problems developing. We were, once again, going against the tide – for it was against the rules of the powerful Society of Teachers of Alexander Technique for the approach to be delivered in any way other than one-to-one.
But we were too impatient to rely solely on one-to-one delivery of these approaches, and we continued to expand our class programme . For the next few years, we ran most groups from Plinston Hall in Letchworth and administered them from a tiny room in Letchworth’s Spirella building – until we were able to move to a house lent to us by the Garden City Corporation – a building now demolished but originally located on the Baldock Road opposite the present Leisure Centre.
When, in 1988 our premises were needed for development in the new business park, we had the great good fortune of being offered the Rosehill hospital site – which was then vacant apart from the squatters who had taken it over. It was terribly dilapidated – had been horribly vandalised – and , thanks to an unsolicited grant from the Henry Smith Charity whose head was Lord Kindersley, an ardent supporter of homeopathic medicine, to whom I had written some months before – we were able -- in a remarkable 6 weeks – in a double horsebox owned by our then chairman – to move into refurbished, sound and absolutely appropriate premises.
Along the way, we’d had to replace 400 panes of glass, the heating, electrics and even the water mains. And by the time we’d moved in, we had become expert in cold calling – for all the necessary materials had been donated – since Smith Charity’s £25,000 were used to cover the labour costs only.
Well by this time our clinic team – composed of 5 medically qualified medical doctors, several osteopaths and, now joined by an acupuncturist, a psychotherapist and counsellor, had established itself with an excellent reputation and was flourishing. Our classes continued to increase in size as well – we publicised them door to door – and at its most extensive, we put 44,000 through local letterboxes each term (fortunately we’d got paper donated and printing for free)
But at this point our work took an unexpected turn.
Times were changing fast, and the astonishing growth in interest amongst the population at large meant that our knowledge, previously largely ignored, was now sought after by nurses and doctors far beyond our immediate locality. Our move to Rosehill had raised our profile considerably – as did the generous patronage of the late and wonderful Sir Nigel Hawthorne -- as we began a second phase of our work in response to the new presenting need.
Over these next years, we gave countless lectures to health professionals, and with the aid of generous funding from grant-making trusts, developed an innovative, nationally acclaimed programmed of accredited courses for health professionals – including a two year diploma in complementary medicine which was validated by the ENB – and we were, in an impressive, gowned ceremony, we were made an Associate College of Thames Valley University. We partnered Marie Curie Cancer Care, St Christopher’s Hospice – and were in frequent discussions with a number of London hospitals and consortia.
But as we all know, needs and priorities change and when the government funding which underpinned these programmes was diverted, we as a Centre needed to look to other ways of ensuring our sustainability and bringing in the income required to support these wonderful – but ageing—premises. Most importantly, we needed a regular income to allow us to provide the low cost services which had been and still was our overriding eventual aim.
We therefore turned our attention to our core activities: developing our weekly public classes – and by dint of great effort, were able to draw over 1,000 people a week to them… Responsive, as well to the new contract culture of the ‘naughties’, we entered a fruitful 5 year formal partnership with North Hertfordshire College, which ended only with the loss of government funding for such programmes.
During this time, we received two national awards: we were chosen best Complementary Health Centre of the Year by CAM Magazine, the professional journal for complementary practitioners, and shortlisted for best integrated practice by the Prince of Wales’ Foundation for Integrated Health.
Today, 30 years on, taking in this new world of compliance, health and safety and policies – I am proud to say that I think we may have finally grown up! The recent sale of our purpose-built, beautiful classroom building – heart-wrenching though it was -- has enabled us to bring these 100 year old buildings up to standard.
We have become one of the leading centres for complementary health in the country. The breadth of our offerings – self-help classes, therapies, a large counselling service with a low cost arm – coupled with the standards of excellence to which we insist in all our work – taken together, are outstanding. On our staff we now have 21 practitioners; 24 tutors; 15 qualified counsellors; and 11 counselling trainees who offer a low cost service. More than 1,200 people use our services each week and over these three decades, more than 25,000 have attended classes, and over 50,000 – our clinic.
But even more than that, I take enormous pleasure in having been able to reconnect with our original purpose: the provision of services for the wider community – for the old and for the vulnerable. Complementary approaches have SO much to offer these groups!
Over these past three years, we have run funded short wellbeing programmes for older people, for those at risk of falling, for carers, and specifically, for carers of people with dementia AND those they care for. Last summer we ran a Hertfordshire County Council sponsored Carers’ Fayre in partnership with 42 other organisations which was the largest ever held in the county. And just last week, with the help of funding from Comic Relief we completed a 4 week wellbeing pilot programme (which we call Positive Ageing) addressing issues of isolation and decreasing mobility amongst frequently frail older people. Of the 65 people who originally enrolled, 62 completed the programme, leaving wreathed in smiles, many with newly made friendships and altogether quite transformed. We – and they – considered the programme to have been a huge success – and we are working hard to secure funding to provide for its continuation.
Well I’m sure you’ll all agree that it’s been quite a journey from that tiny dining room in Letchworth. We have achieved a great deal – just surviving when so many other charities have collapsed is an achievement – but this next phase –the next 30 years – will require far more than the energies of our current staff if we are to bring this message – this je ne sais quoi which is the essence of the Centre… This passionate optimism and belief in what we do is more necessary than ever if we are to bring this message to carers, to those recovering from cancer treatment and to those large numbers of vulnerable people who only know increasing isolation and physical decline.
I hope that we can count on your renewed support and involvement – to help us work towards this lofty vision. Thank you”
The counselling service referred to in the speech offers counselling to adults, young people, children, couples and families. We work with many different issues including abuse, anxiety, bereavement, depression, domestic violence, low self confidence, parent/child relationship, relationship issues, self harm and substance misuse. We also offer hypnotherapy, neuro-linguistic programming and hypno-CBT.
Please call the Letchworth Centre on 01462 678804 for further information.
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