The following report was presented by the Treasurer of London Community Herbalists for our Annual General Meeting in December 2003. It provides a personal account of the history which gives a sense of how the group started. We are developing a timeline of the growth and development of LCH and will post it on this site once it is completed.
This group was born on International Women's Day, March 2002 at a dinner held by Melissas. At that stage we were all relatively newly qualified herbalists, all female, all well fed, wined, relaxed and slightly rowdy and very receptive to Melissa's vision. This was her vision:
Melissa came back from Ecuador (or was it Peru?) excited by the idea that Herbal Medicine could operate as the bridge to span the gap in understanding at the interface between traditional and orthodox medicines. She saw that western herbal medicine could help to put confidence back in to the native traditional medicines particularly within the women who are often the guardians of the more mundane household medicine. I think she was also searching for a way to get back to Ecuador (or is it Peru?)!
Part of our driving force was also the realization that as herbalists we often become isolated and introverted. We often develop a siege mentality of us alone against the orthodox world which can lead to us as individuals becoming dogmatic, protectionist and suspicious of each other.
We all got excited at the vision and saw that a group could be a way of not becoming isolated herbalists, not being a tiny drop in the ocean, instead an actual driving force. To open up to the possibilities and provide support to each other. We all signed up.
The first meeting followed swiftly after and those early meetings were all about ideas, possibilities and dreams. At one of those meetings we decided on world domination on 5 years. Are we still on target or do we need to revise that timescale?
Many of the ideas we held in common; a way of broadening contact with our communities; bringing herbal medicine to all especially those who can't afford it; doing away with pointless shrubbery; making community gardens; using our group as a support for members who had an idea but needed help to make it real; as a social thing; as supervision, as inspiration. My favourite vision is the one where we have a holiday home in Greece where we offer relaxation and treatment for tired herbalists, re-ignite their inspiration and tend their wounds.
In those first meetings, in the first stage there was a sense of being a community of herbalists, like the feeling of the NIMH conference only longer lasting. By April we had decided our name, Melissa and Jessica came up with it and presented it at a meeting in a cunning way: they first suggested something completely unacceptable such as Class Struggle Herbalists after which London Community Herbalists sounded wonderful. It was unanimously passed.
We were also beginning to collect information and tie down the possibilities and by June we had a practice room at Core Arts (a mental health users group) ready for use and funded and the school garden projects were underway. In retrospect this was pretty quick.
I had also written what turned out to be the first of many drafts of our constitution (I'm glad I didn't know then how many times I would write it) and our manifesto. We wrote the manifesto partly because the word sounded so good, a bit magical, an idea made manifest and also because I was trying to avoid writing the constitution.
Then came the second stage which I think of as our long dark teatime of the soul. This stage was to do with tying down the ideas, finding a legal structure, a bank account, a constitution. We had reduced to a core of 5, half of us started working, many of the LCH jobs were boring and although the garden projects were still flourishing we still had no leaflet, no business card and LCH meetings and LCH matters became more of a grind and we began to lose momentum.
More commitment and more members were needed but neither of these things came. There was a feeling that we weren't moving forward. Personalities began to rub. Without dwelling on this or going into detail I feel it's important to look carefully at this time. Now I think that it was a necessary dip which we maybe should have addressed by going back to dealing in ideas, visions and possibilities. Instead of contracting it would have been better to expand, mentally and energetically. Go back to the spirit of LCH. Dream impossible ideas and work out how to make them reality. It was only a stage but it was very painful and defeating. We struggled through slowly in the dark and doubt.
Things did begin to pick up slowly from June 2003: Ali and I gave birth to the constitution and Linda came on board as a fundraiser & development worker. The Infants garden looked lovely, the roof garden became a real possibility and we all went on holiday (LCH already has a history of long summer holidays).
And so here we are. The infant garden is thriving, the children absolutely love it, the teachers steal vegetables from it and it looks beautiful. Several members have given workshops at the school and the teachers have requested more simple home remedy workshops. The practice room at Core Arts is still running and has a body of patients. We have had more funding than I think any of us would have believed and the roof garden has gone from a slightly mad idea to a viable reality; the fence is nearly finished, the design is in its final stage and we are looking at beginning construction of the garden itself in the Autumn.
I believe that on a personal level we have all developed skills we never knew we had, our meetings and minutes are tighter and more professional and our membership is growing. In short Members I believe that we have traveled a long way from that dinner in 2002 and I think we can all be proud of the group that we are still building. I look forward to beginning more projects and I believe the future is full of potential.