The Letchworth Centre for Healthy Living began in 1984 in a Letchworth dining room, where for 6 months we provided a low-cost complement to conventional health care: a qualified doctor, trained in homeopathy, offered patients non-drug-based treatment. Clearly meeting a deep public need, we flourished and expanded to include a broader team of clinicians as well as a programme of classes which taught people methods of improving their own health and enhancing wellbeing.
We soon moved to accommodate our growing practice to the Letchworth Settlement and then to the former Water Board House by courtesy of the then Letchworth Garden City Corporation. John Barrett, retired CEO of the Corporation, became our first chairman and steered us through the process of becoming registered as a charity.
When in 1988 we had once again to move, the external context was changing and what had been considered ‘fringe’, ‘quackery’, or at best, ‘alternative’ was beginning to acquire the almost mainstream respectability of ‘complementary’ and ‘holistic’.
But we still had an immense amount of work to do on a practical level. Our new home, an 8 1/2 acre former cottage hospital, had been vacant for 18 months prior to our occupation and had been very badly vandalised in the intervening time. An unsolicited, extremely generous grant from the Henry Smith Charity, along with gifts in kind from supporters and local as well as national firms, enabled us to repair and refurbish it for our use.
In the years that followed, we grew in both size and reputation as a centre of excellence as we:
- Developed and delivered innovative university-accredited courses (including a 2-year diploma course) which introduced programmes for health professionals to complementary approaches
- Were made an Associate College of Thames Valley University
- Had our diploma course validated by the English National Board for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting – the first time that organisation had validated a programme linking the mind and the body
- Developed important national partnerships – which included Marie Curie Cancer Care and St. Christopher’s Hospice
- Received support from many grant-making trusts, including the Tudor Trust, Smith’s Charity and the Sir Maurice Laing Foundation
- Were chosen Complementary Health Centre of the Year in 2002 by CAM Magazine, the professional journal for practitioners of complementary medicine
- Were, in 2005, short-listed by the Prince of Wales’ Foundation for Integrated Health for its Award for Best Integrated Practice
- Developed strong local partnerships with statutory and health organisations, including North Hertfordshire College and the North Herts and Stevenage Primary Care Trust
- Established totally grant-funded programmes which were inaugurated by the Primary Care Trust and which took our classes to areas of socio-economic deprivation
- Regularly drew over 1,000 people a week to our activities