The Totnes Natural Health Centre is believed locally to be the first in the country. I have been unable to corroborate this but it was certainly one of the first. There were other Complementary and Alternative (CAM) centres before it but they weren’t called ‘Natural Health Centres’. Nor am I sure whether they operated with the donations system which guarantees low cost treatments. Either way, it was certainly pioneering in many respects and still exists today.
The Towards Total Health group that Pat Kitto started in September 1977 became the driving force behind the development of the Totnes Natural Health Centre. It opened on Sunday 24th September 1978 at 1 Castle Street, within Totnes. The first programme of activity included a Spinning group for beginners, a Healing group, a Yoga therapy group and a Meditation group. All sessions were free, although donations could be made, and the intention, according to Pat Kitto, was that it was that:
The centre is there to serve the community of in the interests of health, and we would very much welcome suggestions from the people of Totnes. We are not offering medicines or potions, or even advice. What we are trying to promote is the idea that we are all responsible for our own health.
Pat Kitto’s claims the centre to be the first of its type in the country at the time of its launch, and this is certainly something that is still believed locally. Saunders (1975, 173) lists several alternative health centres but none which are specifically called ‘Natural Health Centres’. Adams’ (1982) directory lists around 20 similar centres nationally, so if not the very first, it was certainly one of the first of this type, and its emphasis on wider community access and free consultations may have been particularly innovative. In 1980 it moved to new premises at 69 Fore Street and would move again twice before ending up at its current location on The Plains. The Centre did receive a grant from the Elmgrants Trust, a small grants scheme established by the Elmhirsts in the 1930s. It also benefited from the patronage of Ruth Ash, husband of Maurice and daughter of Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst, who paid the rent for the centre whilst Pat Kitto was involved and then left it a bequest which enabled it to purchase its current premises.