How we began
At Okehampton Community Well-being for All (OCWFA), ‘we believe the widely recognised benefits of complementary therapies should be affordable and accessible to all’.
It was during my late mother’s illness and long stays in hospital that I dreamed about starting up an affordable and accessible complementary therapy service in our community.
It seemed to me at the time that the current NHS system did not yet embrace the holistic approach to Health and Well-being. With my training, learning and interests in complementary/holistic therapies I was upset about the quality of food my mum received in hospital, in relation to the fact that food is medicine. I wondered what good this splodge would be for my mum’s body to support healing and wellness. I was also upset by the unpleasant ward environment she was in and lack fresh air.
As I sat on the ward for several hours at a time I envisioned that treatments such as Reflexology, Reiki, Aromatherapy would be appreciated by patients and the staff, bringing relaxation, nurturing, tender loving care, and would contribute towards the creation of a calm, therapeutic, and healing environment.
One day this idea was proven to me when my mum told me that she gave her Rose, Geranium, Chamomile and Lavender essential oil blend, I made for her, to a fellow patient in distress. The patient’s mum gave her a hand massage after a long and distressing procedure. My mum, a dedicated nurse throughout her working career, told me the oils and massage calmed her down and she went to sleep, which had been very difficult for her to do. This brought me happiness and showed me the power and potential of aromatherapy and massage.
A simple bottle of oil enabled the patient’s mum to support her daughter during these difficult, challenging, and uncertain times, and in turn enabled the mother to feel that she could do something to help her daughter, to feel useful, to facilitate quality time together and to bring in some peace and relaxation.
In 2018, a year after my mother passed, OCWFA was created with the help of dedicated therapists, friends and community. We offered Reflexology, Bowen Technique, Lymphatic Drainage Massage, Reiki, Aromatherapy and Yoga on a donation basis, but we did not turn people away if they could not make a donation.
Our application for local funding was rejected, so we volunteered our time and used any donations we received to hire a space to work from. After a few months a friend and service user suggested we approach our local medical centre with our service. We did this and that was the beginning of our relationship with the local medical centre. We offered treatments one day a week from our medical centre and once a month we had a treatment day for all the staff, GP’s Nurses, Receptionists, Chemists and others connected with the practice. This helped us form relationships with the staff, gave the GP’s and Nurses direct experience of the benefits of the treatments who were then able to recommend our service to their patients. We attended meetings with GP’s and Pharmacists to discuss ways in which medications and prescriptions could be reduced, social prescribing was also discussed. It was an exciting time of possibility and collaboration.
OCWFA was a service much appreciated in our community, but our local funding applications were being rejected, even though we were supported by the local GP practice. We didn’t know why, but put it down to not being experienced in the time-consuming form filling and funding application processes required.
After 1 year it was suggested we pay a professional to help us with a funding application, as he would be able to put into words what we were doing, what we wanted to do, what we were achieving, and help us to organise a budget, and make clear what the benefits of our services would be if we received the funding. For us this was a make-or-break moment, and we would use the last money we had to try and secure funding from the National Lottery community fund for 1 year. However, this was also during the very start of the COVID-19 pandemic and, as a consequence we also had to think about how we could adapt and develop our services if we could not offer treatments face to face due to the changing government guidelines of the time.
We were so pleased that our bid was successful, it meant we could continue our work for one more year at least. As the COVID- 19 Pandemic took hold, we were later told that we could no longer practice from our local medical centre, so we hired a space at the local community centre with our new grant, until lockdowns came in. During lockdowns we started offering online services; we were unsure how this would work, many of our service users were elderly and were categorised as vulnerable, and some were not comfortable with technology. Eve Olivera (Co-founder) and her daughter Maya guided people through using and connecting with the technology. This enabled many people to be a part of the groups and connect with each other, some even took it a step further, investing in new computers, microphones, and cameras to enhance their experience. During lockdowns and beyond we offered online coffee mornings, group meditations, talks from local organisations and online yoga. We created space and time where people could meet up, chat and share, learn about other community organisations and how they could get involved.
OCWFA is a small local organisation, but due to being online we can connect with people from aboard, which in addition to its core practice brings different cultures together, new experiences, connections, and opportunities.
It is our hope that sharing skills, knowledge, and the benefits of complementary therapies in an accessible way will empower and inspire individuals to incorporate holistic approaches to their personal health and well-being.