How it all started….
The first plans for The Secret Space began to be formed in early 2013. Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) had approached CGL (then CRI, the charity responsible for providing local support for people with drug and alcohol problems) to set up three social enterprises, with a view to providing training opportunities and pathways to employment for their service users.
When making enquiries, HCC were introduced to Nicky Kearns, who was working providing yoga and complementary therapies for CGL service users undergoing treatment for drug and alcohol dependency. Working in this field, Nicky saw the positive impact that a holistic focus on health was having in helping people who were actively engaged in changing their lives for the better.
Holistic therapies have been used for a long time within treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction as they have long been seen to assist people with overcoming the physical, mental and emotional strain associated with the recovery process, and to aid with safely releasing and processing trauma leftover from years of self-abuse. Holistic therapies and yoga help people to learn how to relax without the need for substances or alcohol. They help to provide a tangible and healthy way for people to connect with their bodies, and therefore with themselves, and to learn how to be present in the moment. These are also skills and practices that, once learned, can be used wherever and whenever necessary. Yoga and holistic therapies are an extremely cost effective way of supporting recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction.
With Nicky’s enthusiasm and the proven efficacy of a holistic approach to health being supportive to people in recovery, the idea of setting up a holistic therapies and yoga centre as one of the three social enterprises proposed by the council was born…
From conception to opening…
Having no previous experience of social enterprises, Nicky did some research and devised the concept of a business that provided yoga and complementary therapies to the public, and also provided training and work experience positions to vulnerable members of the community. After some work to find and renovate the premises, and a LOT of effort, long hours and organisational wizardry, on 7th September 2013, The Secret Space opened its doors to the general public.
Nicky had put together a team of local yoga teachers and complementary therapists to offer classes and treatments. This staff base has expanded hugely over the years and now includes well over thirty regular teachers and therapists who use the space and provide an extremely varied range of classes and therapies to the public, and also to CGL service users and other vulnerable members of the community.
Having started off being open three days a week, this very quickly became seven days a week, with classes and therapies available most days between early morning and late evening. The client base grew and grew and today we have are privileged to welcome hundreds of people through the door each week accessing yoga classes and holistic therapies.
As well as the members of staff who came on board already qualified, Nicky – in conjunction with a local college – set up a training program for people in recovery. A class was put together and provided with training in massage therapy. The people who finished the course did exceptionally well, and many are still part of our team today, now being very skilled and well experienced practitioners.
I originally joined the Secret Space as a volunteer. At that time my life had been very chaotic and I was struggling to overcome serious health problems. Having previously had a successful career in a completely unrelated profession I had been unable to work for some time and was lacking direction and focus. After hearing about the project I decided to totally change my focus and retrained as a holistic therapist with the help of the Secret Space. With the support and encouragement of other staff and volunteers at the Secret Space I have undertaken professional training in a number of different therapies and am now in a position to work as a therapist. It is work that I love which allows me to meet a whole variety of people and genuinely help them. Every day is different and exciting. As well as meeting new people I have also been lucky enough to build a consistent client base of those I see on a regular basis. Having clients return to see me has massively boosted my confidence and also allows me to fine tune my treatments to each client as I have become more familiar with their needs. I am thoroughly grateful for the Secret Space and give thanks to all of the volunteers, therapists and teachers who work here. Without you all I genuinely don’t know how I would have got my life back on track.
Over the years we have seen people flourish in confidence, self assurance and ever growing self worth. We have worked with over 40 volunteers and as well as our incredible massage therapists, we have also trained multiple Reiki practitioners and of course an amazing admin and reception team without whom our centre could not run. Many of our volunteers have gone on to find paid work, either at The Secret Space or elsewhere. We provide a free yoga class for people who are in recovery and through the kindness of our therapists we are also able to offer low-cost or free holistic therapy treatments. We showcase and sell art and jewellery that our volunteers have created.
Most importantly, many of our volunteers have stayed healthy and safe, at least in part because of their connection to The Secret Space. As well as working with those in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse, we also work with people who are in recovery from mental health problems, domestic violence victims, and people with physical disabilities. The volunteers who work with us often become a part of The Secret Space community, meeting people, and taking advantage of the opportunity to learn yoga and gain free holistic health treatments.
Many of the people who volunteer at The Secret Space have been through a program of recovery and are ready to take the next step into useful employment. Unfortunately, because of their history, it is not always easy to do so. Quite often they have limited skills or experience to put on their CV, and suffer from the low self esteem that being ostracised from society can cause. Here at The Secret Space we help people to cross the bridge to normal living, giving them the confidence, skills, opportunities and experience, to move into employment.
At The Secret Space, we are proud to be a place where the line between “illness” and “health” is not easily visible. All people, at some point in their lives, suffer with aches, pains, trauma, doubts, questioning, days where we feel low, days where we feel anxious.. Here at The Secret Space a huge part of our ethos is creating a place of acceptance, non-judgement and refuge from whatever may be going on in the outside world, or from the inner turmoil we all suffer with at times. Whether it’s an escape from the outside, or respite from the inside that is needed, we strongly feel we are a place where people find solace and relaxation. Through yoga, holistic therapies, and the genuine love and support of the staff team of teachers, therapists, volunteers and awesome admins we believe we are able to help everyone find those secret spaces within themselves; that little bit of extra space to breathe, to relax into, to stretch out in… We hope that we are able to continue to do this and expand what we are able to offer to the public, and to our volunteers.
We would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the volunteers who currently work with us, and those who have worked with us over the years. Without them, we would not be able to keep the Secret Space up and running. They do fabulous work to support the day to day administration, therapists and teachers, and deal phenomenally with the various challenges that arise. It gives us great joy to see people who initially come to us nervous and unsure, within a short time, laughing and engaging with clients and staff, effectively and professionally dealing with the pressures and strains that occur in the running of a busy studio, and building those all important connections with other people, with the world, and most importantly with themselves.
From October 2012 to April 2015 I was an inpatient in a psychiatric hospital. In November 2015 whilst still a day patient at the same hospital I began working as a volunteer at the Secret Space where I still work today. The warm, friendly and supportive environment has helped me grow in confidence and prove that I can be a trustworthy, competent and reliable member of the team. This in turn has improved my self-esteem and has helped me remain well since leaving hospital, something you can’t put a price on! I love working at the Secret Space and hope to remain a part of this wonderful venture for the foreseeable future. I will always be grateful to the team for giving me a chance and for giving me my first steps back into the world of employment.
Our vision is about changing people’s lives. We want everyone in the local area to use our centre, either as a client or volunteer, to increase their health, skills, happiness and their connection to the community. We want to run a centre of excellence, for all the services that we provide, to all members of the community.
Yoga and holistic therapies are all about connection, and as a business, this is also a major part of how we work. We work hard to connect with our staff/volunteer team, our clients, and other local businesses and charities. The sense of community at The Secret Space is a big reason people return to us again and again. We know how important it is to feel connected, to be welcomed and to have a sense of belonging. We have recently introduced a Friends of The Secret Space scheme to give our clients the opportunity to support us to support our work, and to enable us to reach out and connect with more charitable projects and vulnerable people.
Hertford is a town founded on a strong sense of community, and we are proud to be a part of that. We look forward to becoming a bigger and bigger part of local life and to continue to connect and help people change their lives.
The way forward…
Part of the challenge for The Secret Space is to become a self-sustaining business that can continue to run when our funding ends. We are also looking to increase our revenue specifically for charitable works. We would love to be able to do more with a wider range of vulnerable groups in society so that they can experience the benefits of yoga and holistic therapies. This might be through providing training, classes or therapies for specific groups, or even paid places on retreats for those who would not be able to attend otherwise.
That is why we are so grateful for the custom that our clients give us. It allows us to continue providing high calibre classes and therapies and it allows us to help more people who may not otherwise be able to enjoy the benefits of yoga and holistic therapies.
If you are interested in helping to sustain and improve The Secret Space, you could do so by becoming a regular client. We offer many monthly bundles for yoga classes which also save you some money too! In addition, we now have the Friendship scheme mentioned above, which allows people to donate £10 per quarter towards our charitable works, as well as a Corporate Sponsorship option which allows companies to give regular, larger donations to help us continue to grow and help people change their lives. For more information please click here.
We are grateful to all our volunteers, staff and especially our clients for helping us grow and develop over the years. We look forward to continuing to be able to grow, expand and bring the benefits of yoga and holistic therapies to more and more people.