Dartington’s connections to Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAM)

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is a good example of an area where ideas that started on the periphery of society have become increasingly accepted by mainstream society. A Report by a House of Lords select committee in 2000 endorsed NHS support for a range of therapies and for more cross fertilization between the alternative and mainstream sectors.

Dartington had some direct connections with CAM but this area of alternative thinking also illustrates one of the arguments that I am making – that it was the people ‘around’ Dartington who perhaps had more impact in the spread of alternative ideas than the formal institutions themselves. One such person was Pat Kitto, she had an interest in a range of alternative practices and was the driving force behind the establishment of the Natural Health Centre in Totnes. As ever, I would be interested in any other recollections of Dartington involvement in CAM.

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A significant relationship developed in 1969 when Jeanne and Aksel Haahr were invited to Dartington to explain the Alexander Technique to the music department. They had been invited to Dartington after treating Vicky Canter, a music student originally from Surrey. The Haahrs would continue to visit the Dartington area intermittently throughout the 1970s offering the Alexander Technique until, early in the 1980 they relocated to Devon from Scotland and, with the support of Dartington, set up an Alexander Technique training school in Totnes. Although it was not central to their rural regeneration project, Dartington did have a record of supporting some health related activities. The Elmhirst’s had financially supported Withymead, a pioneering therapeutic centre in Exeter set up the Champernownes from whom they had purchased Dartington Hall. They also recruited Dr Hardy Gaussen from Withymead and employed him as a psychiatric advisor for the benefit of workers on the estate between 1965 and 1977 when he retired.

Pat Kitto, who was associated with Dartington through the school and her work on the ‘The Terrace’ project in Connisborough played a role in promoting was alternative health. She promoted the practice of ‘re-evaluation counselling’ (or co-conselling) in Totnes and Dartington. Re-evalution counselling, a form of peer counselling, was started in the United States in the 1950s by Harvey Jackins and arrived in the UK in the early 1970s (Clark 1977, 323). In September 1976 Pat instigated a Re-evaluation Counselling group in Totnes, which was followed, in January 1978 with another group being established as part of the Adult Education programme at Shinners Bridge, Dartington. Pat’s interest in health and alternative therapies led her to establish a ‘Towards Total Health Group’ in September 1977. The purpose of this group was to provide

“e]ducation about alternative therapies, to use group work, and workshops to discuss and work towards setting up a Natural Health Centre in Totnes. There will be talks on healing, health centres, counselling, the Alexander Technique, and we hope to have more experience of Tai Chai [sic], yoga and other movement work.”

The group of people attending the Towards Total Health group provided the main impetus and energy behind the establishment of the Natural Health Centre in Totnes which opened in September 1978 and was the first of its type in the country. In establishing the centre the group worked with the Healing Research Trust (HRT) an organisation set up in 1974 and based in Plymouth, where they were also working to establish a Natural Health Centre. The HRT was established to promote alternative medicine and to bring practitioners into repute. The Chairman of the Trust was Dr Alec Forbes, Senior Consultant Physician at Plymouth General Hospital.  Forbes was very influential on the Totnes group and he later went on to help establish the pioneering Bristol Cancer Care Hospital where Pat Kitto also worked as a volunteer.

Another person who was significant in supporting the Totnes Natural Health Centre was Ruth Ash, who paid the rent in the early years and later left a bequest to the organisation which helped with the purchase of their own premises, another Dartington connection.


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