15:01 21 December 2014
The Letchworth Centre for Healthy Living has been celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and marking the pioneering vision and hard work that has turned it into one of the leading – and possibly the largest – centres for complementary health in the country.
A positive ageing class in session.
The aim has always been to help prevent illness and improve health and quality of life by adding something extra to what orthodox medicine can offer.
The centre offers a wide range of weekly self-help classes, complementary therapies, and a counselling service which also includes low-cost sessions.
Based at the imposing former Rosehill Hospital in Hitchin Road are 21 practitioners, 24 tutors, 15 qualified counsellors and 11 counselling trainees.
More than 1,200 people use its services each week and in recent years the centre has developed grant-funded wellbeing programmes for older people, for carers, and for people with Parkinson’s disease.
Founder and director Roberta Meldrum said: “All this seemed a long way off 30 years ago, when the story of the centre began in a Letchworth dining room.
“Complementary approaches were considered ‘fringe’ and viewed with great suspicion by the orthodox medical profession.
“Its aim was, by providing affordable, low-cost complementary treatment, to raise awareness of its benefits – and the one day a week surgery it set up was the beginning of this process.
“The tiny centre grew, and outgrew, a succession of premises.
“Well ahead of its time, the centre identified stress as a significant factor in illness and classes – including meditation, yoga and t’ai chi – were held in Letchworth’s Plinston Hall and administered from a tiny room in the Spirella Building.”
Group-based programmes in the Alexander Technique – used to reduce and prevent back pain – were another pioneering project.
The centre secured charitable status and in 1988 seized the chance to move to its present home, after a frantic six weeks that saw dilapidated and horribly vandalised buildings transformed.
Roberta said: “Times were changing fast, and the astonishing growth in interest in complementary approaches to health largely meant that this knowledge, previously ignored, was now sought after by nurses and doctors.
“The centre, with its impressive new premises and the patronage of the late Sir Nigel Hawthorne, was the obvious source.”
Over the next years the centre tackled groundbreaking work at a national level, designing and delivering university-accredited courses and the complementary therapy module on Marie Curie Cancer Care’s nursing diploma programme, which many consider to have effectively set one of the blueprints for the holistic care of cancer patients in the UK.
Now the centre, which has won national awards for its work with the medical profession, is taking its message to a broader audience, including carers and vulnerable older people.
Roberta added: “Looking back over the last 30 years I am most proud of the way in which the centre has changed people’s live.
“The biggest change has been people’s attitudes towards complementary approaches, which have now become almost mainstream.
“In the future we are planning for lots more work with the community – so watch this space.”