Just as a mighty river is formed from the confluence of many small streams, the coming into existence of the Community Health Foundation was likewise the result of a flowing together of many currents of energy. The main source of this “river” arose in Boston in 1965 when Michio and Aveline Kushi opened the first East West Institute from their home in Cambridge, a city that sits across the river from Boston, and began teaching macrobiotics, cosmology, and cooking. An eclectic group of young people, who were already questioning the cultural values of the times, started arriving in the late 60s and early 70s in Boston in ever increasing numbers to immerse themselves in a new paradigm of study that had its origins in Oriental medicine and philosophy.
Among this group of young people were our founding director, Bill Tara, our current director, Greg Johnson, and several current and past facilitators including Evan Root, one of the first students of Michio Kushi, and Michael Rossoff, who facilitates an introductory programme called Basic Alchemy, and Tom Monte, a well-regarded author of many books on the topic of health and relationships.
This new paradigm, which came to be known as “macrobiotics”, was the contemporary application of the yin-yang dialectic that provided a larger view or perspective on many different cultural and scientific phenomena. It touched on every area of life, but in aggregate attempted to create a “big picture” cosmology that not only explained the origins of life and the cosmos but how we should live a life that was in harmony with that natural order.
Particular attention was paid to the field of nutrition, proposing a dietary regime that attempted to harmonise and account for the seasons, social circumstances, and man’s unique place in the universe. This particular focus on nutrition eventually led to the birth of the natural foods and wholefoods movement. By the early 70s, macrobiotic communities started forming in other cities both within the United States and Europe. Most were inspired by Michio’s teachings and publications and something of a model for a macrobiotic community began to evolve.
In 1972 Bill Tara, an influential member of this group, moved to London and became the manager of Ceres Natural Health Food store on Portobello Road. Founded in the ’60s this was a magical emporium with a bakery, takeaway and bookshop to which Renée Tara added cooking classes in natural foods.
Peter Bradford was another important “tributary” of the Boston community. In 1974, he and Bill set up Sunwheel Foods, a macrobiotic food company distributing a full range of macrobiotic staple foods and specialising in the importing of all the highest quality Japanese products.
At this same period of time, plans were afoot by Bill Tara, Peter Bradford and others to found the Self Health Centre of London. Before long a centre was in operation that featured classes in cooking, Oki Yoga, shiatsu, guest lectures and fabulous macrobiotic dinners on Wednesday evenings. By 1976 the centre had attracted a group of collaborators and was ready for a major expansion. Donal Cox began working at Sunwheel Foods but stayed in daily communication with Bill Tara who was the force of nature in leading this new project.
The Community Health Foundation is founded
The Community Health Foundation is registered as Charitable Trust (no. 271847) with William Tara as Founding Director. A lease taken for 20 years on St. Luke’s School, 188 Old Street, London EC1. Bill Tara had by now enrolled a body of Trustees and in 1976 the Community Health Foundation (CHF) was registered as a charitable trust. Its mandate was to provide education that enabled people to become more self-reliant and take more control of their health. In the words of the Mission Statement: “Health is seen here not merely as the absence of symptoms of sickness but as a creative and dynamic relationship between the individual, the family, the community and the greater natural environment.”
The former St Luke’s School building, an imposing disused five storey red brick building on Old Street, EC1, came up for rent. The founding group jumped at the opportunity and a focussed fundraising followed rapidly. The lease was signed for 20 years – a bold step, not taken without some trepidation. Amazingly, people showed up from all over to participate, sleeves already rolled up. Chris Dawson from New Zealand (now the owner of Clearspring) partnered Donal Cox in opening the food shop, East West Natural Foods, and Peter Bradford built the shop interior. One day a Frenchman arrived and announced “I am Jean Torné, this is my wife Linda, I am ‘ere.” Jon Sandifer parked his camper in the yard and took on the role of maintenance manager.
The East West Centre opens
The CHF completes work on it new premises and offers a holistic health educational programme of classes, courses, seminars and conferences. The following services are provided:
East West Natural Food Store
The Source Bookshop
The Seven Sheaves Restaurant
Earth Mother Pre-school Playgroup
The Project became known as The East West Centre.
Grants were given by the Cripplegate Foundation, London Borough of Islington and the Craigmyle Family. Areas of the building were allocated for the cooking school, conference centre, administration, a bookshop and a restaurant. Teams assembled around each of these projects and one by one each facility came into being. The educational programme presented classes in shiatsu, macrobiotic cooking, Dö-in, Oriental diagnosis, macrobiotic medicine, bread-baking and the order of the universe. A magazine “The Spiral” was launched and a series of pamphlets “Better Health through Nutrition” hit the streets. Michael Burns, magical Irish storyteller, opened the bookshop. The restaurant, “The Seven Sheaves” opened to critical acclaim from Timeout and The Evening Standard, whose famous critic Fay Maschler included it in her “20 best restaurants of 1977”.
The Kushi Institute of Great Britain is opened
Kushi Institute of Great Britain (in-depth studies and teacher-training) established as core educational programme. Michio Kushi came to teach high profile seminars and classes and to give consultations. Registration in CHF classes increased and plans were drawn up to hold the first European Congress of Macrobiotic Centres at Old Street. A series of conferences on preventative medicine were launched with speakers from the medical and health professions. The intent to influence the perception of health was beginning to take shape.
A training course for teachers known as “The Kushi Institute”, a collaboration between Michio Kushi and Bill Tara, was created. The students would study, in depth, the order of the universe, cooking, Oriental diagnosis, shiatsu, Dö-In, and macrobiotic medicine. The teachers scheduled on that first course included Michio Kushi, Bill Tara, Marc von Cawenbergh, Rik Vermeuten (formerly a doctor of nuclear medicine from Belgium) and the legendary shiatsu teacher, Shizuko Yamamoto.
Denny Waxman becomes Director
Denny Waxman succeeds William Tara as Director and brings a new focus to the educational curriculum. On the departure of Bill Tara in 1981 Denny Waxman, head of the Philadelphia East West Centre, came to London to replace him. His two years at the CHF saw the transformation of the food store and its sale to Sunwheel Foods, which then became Clearspring in 1983. Denny also gave a new focus and challenge to the educational curriculum, with his wife Judy bringing all her training with Aveline Kushi to fruition in the cooking classes.
The Seven Sheaves became the “East West Restaurant”, a self-service café which became a Mecca for everyone who loved wholesome natural foods. People regularly called from places even as far as Los Angeles to make dinner reservations. Yet despite such popularity and the skill and dedication of chef Gerry Dewhurst and manager Anna Mackenzie, the operation gradually began to lose money.
Jon Sandifer takes the helm
Jon Sandifer strengthens participation in the Kushi Institute programmes but their focus moves to Kiental. Following Denny Waxman’s departure in 1983, Jon Sandifer took over the directorship. Donal Cox, working with Jon, continued to develop and deliver the work of the Kushi Institute, which attracted students from around the world. One summer Intensive drew 93 students from 17 different countries. Other countries began to vie with the CHF to have their own Kushi Institute. This eventually culminated in the opening of a major new Kushi Institute facility in Kiental, Switzerland, which effectively transferred a great deal of interest in Kushi studies from London to Kiental.
Mario Binetti, the Kushi Institute director in Kiental, had a dream location and a dream team of teachers. Jean Torné took up a position as head chef and cooking teacher. With the loss of European students, the Kushi Institute in London could only draw locally for new students and over time income from the educational work began to dry up. In addition, the thriving shiatsu training business was sold to one of the students, Ray Ridolphi (giving birth to The British School of Shiatsu).
Simon Brown broadens the Curriculum
During this phase the educational programme expanded to include more shiatsu, tai chi, yoga, meditation and body work. Meanwhile the Kushi Institute courses were expanded to provide a full professional training. In 1986 Simon Brown came on board as director. He had studied Macrobiotics with Michio and Aveline Kushi as well as shiatsu with Shizuko Yamamoto. Simon put greater emphasis on attracting new people to the philosophy, practice and holistic approach of macrobiotics through a wide range of introductory courses. In 1990, Bill Spear brought an authentic understanding of Feng Shui to an eager public. Simon also brought in Takashi Yoshikawa to further deepen the feng shui studies. The Institute continued hosting the world’s finest teachers in macrobiotics, shiatsu, feng shui and the philosophy of the Far East with teachers such as Shizuko Yamamoto, Wataru Ohashi, Herman and Cornelia Aihara, Michio and Aveline Kushi, Rex Lassalle and others.
There were various programmes to reach out to the wider community with a short course for nurses from local hospitals, cooking classes for chefs and natural health education for school children. In 1989 The Independant published an article describing Dr. Hugh Faulkner’s recovery from cancer using macrobiotics. This brought many new people to macrobiotics, creating a greater demand for cooking classes, introductory courses and private counselling sessions. Meanwhile the restaurant went through avery popular phase with a queue forming in Old Street at lunchtimes. Macrobiotics was becoming more trendy attracting regular customers such as Boy George and Jazz Summers who created further interest in the media. A film was made about macrobiotics by the charity, featuring Keith Michele. Simon wrote many articles for magazines including Women and Home and Cosmopolitan during this period.
The Transformation of the Charity
Greg Johnson takes over role of Director and radically reforms the educational programmes, introducing ontological inquiry. It had come to light in 1993 that the charity was in dire financial trouble and a full disclosure had to be made to the Charities Commission. Their officials came and made a detailed audit. Trustee Richard Finchell, a brilliant negotiator, gained their confidence and some time. Jon Sandifer and Donal Cox were consulted about possible directorship, but neither were keen to take on the role. In the end, it was Bill Spear who suggested that Greg Johnson, a student of Michio Kushi from the early Boston years, contact the Trustees.
Greg was invited to London to meet the Trustees and teachers. Greg had considerable experience and training not only in macrobiotics and wholefoods, but also in the field of transformation and the human potential movement. During early meetings, Greg proposed utilising a very powerful transformational tool to address and deal with the current situation. Donal Cox took a stand to partner Greg to restore the integrity of the CHF, educationally and financially.
The first key project that they undertook together was the creation of a 3-day weekend workshop called Being-in-Action, an interactive dialogue format whose design was to expose certain fallacies and myths that underpin our understanding of self and world, setting the stage for a radical transformation and breakthrough into a new state of being.
As a gateway programme, it was intended to provide a context for all future work and empower participants in various aspects of health and well-being. Greg went to work designing a manual for the programme and Donal Cox took on enrolment, a hat he would wear for the next five years. Within a short time, Greg had assembled a team to co-create a ten-week follow-on programme called the Foundation Course. In addition to deepening the conversation started in Being-in-Action, the course included bodywork sessions, hands-on cooking classes and a coaching structure, all intended to sustain the work begun in Being-in-Action.
A quantum shift to the level of our newly emerging body of work occurred when Dr David Norris accepted Greg’s invitation to bring his 20 years of experience in leading transformational programmes all over the world to design and lead a new programme. Listening to Life was a total roller-coaster of transformational conversation, which continued under its own evolutionary impetus to form the final three days of JumpStart, our first week-long residential programme. This unique programme was researched and designed over a two-year period by a team consisting of bodywork teacher Portia Castor, shiatsu teacher and programme leader Andy Jukes and cooking teacher Bob Lloyd together with Greg Johnson and Donal Cox.
A number of new key players began to appear on the scene. Sheila Parmar walked calmly into the office one day and asked to be registered in the second ever Being-in-Action. Damien Gallagher arrived from Ireland with an identical request, as did Gregor Singleton, both of whom later went on staff, together with Francoise Auvray who later became the cooking teacher. Greg Johnson and Donal Cox met with one of the first Kushi students, Evan Root, while attending the Kushi Summer Conference in Rhode Island in 1996, and before long Evan was contributing his unique style of dialogue and transformational work to the curriculum.
The Community Health Foundation reinvents itself
The Community Health Foundation leaves Old Street.The charity becomes the Concord Institute for Integral Studies whose remit is to design, develop and deliver the core programme of education. Although the CHF debt had been radically reduced it became apparent in 1999 that it would no longer be practical to remain at Old Street. So in November the CHF became homeless for a period while it searched for new premises. It was also at this point that the organisation changed its name to the Concord Institute for Integral Studies.
During that period, Sheila Parmar became the Enrolment Manager and guided the organisation while it searched for new premises. For a short period, the Institute found itself operating in someone’s front room, with the network of communications sustained by mobile phones.
It became clear that the work the organisation was delivering was not bound by the bricks and mortar of 188 Old Street, but was a living phenomenon in the hearts of a community of people. In their commitment to making it available to others they networked, met, planned and held open evenings in each other’s homes.
Without losing a step, the organisation continued scheduling and seeking out venues for our major programmes. Canning House in Belgrave Square for Being-in-Action and Oxon Hoath in Kent for JumpStart – which came about magically through some inspired networking by Stella Kojder.
Concord Institute finds new home
New premises taken on at Blackstock Mews, Finsbury Park, LondonThe Concord School of Culinary Arts is established and the Curriculum further enhanced with new programmes. At the end of the year 14 Blackstock Mews in Finsbury Park was discovered by Nicholas Allan and a new home for Concord was established. By the time the Mews had been settled a unique body of programmes had evolved, capable of having a profound impact on health and well-being.
To Michio Kushi we owe a debt we cannot repay and so Concord Institute honoured its roots by inviting Michio to give a lecture and group health consultation in central London and also to lead a residential course.
David Norris continued to be closely involved with the community and now brought the mature fruits of his 25 years’ experience to two new programmes.
The first was Creating the Future, a programme not about the lives of its participants, but the life of the organisation. This programme eventually became Strategic Planning, an annual event at which the charity generates its intention for the coming year. At the first Creating the Future, two participants, Gail Wylie and Joe Clare took a bold stand to create a newsletter so that Concord Institute could keep in touch with the many graduates of its programmes. This started as a simple black and white paper document, but over the years that small seed flourished into a beautiful pdf full of articles about cooking, taking part in and assisting in the production of our programmes, illustrated with wonderful photography and artwork, all contributed by members of the Concord community.
The second new programme, called Being in Business, advanced the transformational work of the Institute into the workplace and has continued to this day as an opportunity for participants to look into their relationship with work, whatever it may be, along with the “promise” that they are, which represents more closely their authentic commitment.
Tom Monte, distinguished author of many books on health and workshop leader in the domain of healing the heart, added his vibrancy and authentic wisdom to the community through his varied annual workshops on topics such as “Sex as a Path to Fulfillment”, “Real Change, Real Healing” and “Healing the Heart as a Path to Love”.
Tensegrity era begins
Tensegrity became an important part of our curriculum when we started collaborating with a Los Angeles based organisation called Cleargreen, founded by Carlos Castaneda to promote the wisdom and practices of the seers and shamans who were the guardians of a tradition that extended back to ancient Mexico. The modern adaptation of those practices came to be known as Tensegrity, an architectural term coined by Buckminster Fuller. This new collaboration led to the development of a new four-day residential programme, Power, Intent and Evolution, which included Tensegrity alongside our interactive dialogue work and meditation. In 2002 JumpStart was enhanced by the addition of the JumpStart Seminar Series, comprising follow-on classes in cooking, bodywork and self-expression to enable people to continue their training after completing the residential programme.
With the opening in 2003 of the Concord School of Culinary Arts, a vision began to take shape for a different level of training. Over several seasons of six-month training courses, Jean Torné and his students developed the art of selfless service and wholefood cooking by producing “transformation on a plate” for Concord programme participants and members of the Dining Club.
By this time it had become too much of a challenge to host our major programmes such as Being-in-Action in town and deliver meals from Blackstock Mews to the venues where these programmes were taking place. This required the extraordinary feat of cooking meals at the Mews and then transporting it hot to the venue, a very challenging logistical management. The Mews location was reaching its breaking point and it was time to move on.
A bigger vision for the Institute
New facility at Thane Works opens, with state-of art Culinary School and a Bodywork Studio. A new home for Concord Institute is discovered at 2-4 Thane Works in Finsbury Park. The opening is marked by an inaugural party and arts event that included comedy sketches, jazz improvisation and poetry. Delicious tapas cooking was prepared by master chef Jean Torné. Sheila Parmar became the managing director and enrolment was taken on by Simona Flore and Stella Kjoder.
The larger premises comprised a 1st floor bodywork studio and office, and the ground floor was fitted out with a state-of-the-art culinary school. At the time, programmes such as Being-in-Action were still being conducted in hired premises such as hotels and cultural centres. However, once settled into the new premises, it became feasible to do programmes at the new Thane Works facility, excepting of course our residential programmes.
A wonderful fundraising event with food and entertainment was organised, including an auction of “promises”. Graduates of Concord programmes generously contributed towards the fitting out of both the culinary school and the 1st floor conference room, enabling it to be used to host workshops, and removing the need to hire outside venues.
Bodywork classes were offered in yoga, tai-chi and pilates. In addition, a series of classes was provided in Bristol by Portia Castor.
Our relationship with Cleargreen entered a new phase in 2005 when the Institute started sponsoring major Tensegrity workshops. The first one was held in the city of Bath and was entitled The First Gate of Dreaming. It was attended by 280 participants who came from all over Europe and the United States and was followed several years later by a second workshop at the University of Bath for 220 people.
That year also saw the start of a new programme led by David Norris, On Leadership, designed to inquire into the nature of leadership.
Cooking programmes took the form of week-long intensives related to the seasons and led by a variety of expert teachers including Melanie Waxman and Mutsuko Johnson. A series of daytime and evening cooking classes was offered that was open to the public, and these were publicised by a dedicated team of graduates from Concord cooking programmes who created a soup stall each Saturday at local farmer’s markets.
iEvolve and other new programmes
In 2009 Greg Johnson created HeartSpace, an advanced programme on human relationships and what is possible when human beings connect with each other in an authentic heart-space. Greg also created The Meaning of Money, acknowledging that our relationship with the energy of money plays a part as well in our physical and mental health.
Being-in-Action metamorphosed into a new programme called iEvolve, which became the gateway programme for the organisation. In making this change, the Institute was in effect acknowledging that we owe the power of this programme to nothing less than the forces of evolution itself.
Concord Institute continued to acknowledge its roots. In 2010 and 2011 we were delighted to have Bill Tara back to host two guest programmes, one of which looked into modern shamanism. We were also very pleased to have Simon Brown host a weekend programme on Modern Day Macrobiotics. Another former Kushi student from the Boston days, Michael Rossoff, now a highly qualified acupuncturist and Oriental medicine expert, began to teach annually at the Institute, bringing his profound understanding and experience to the programmes Basic Alchemy and Men and Women’s Health.
Over the years many participants for iEvolve have come from outside the UK including most of the countries in central Europe, but also Australia, the United States and even South America. Some were so moved by the programme that they requested to host iEvolve programmes in their home country. We subsequently held iEvolve programmes in Boston, Belgium, and Bogota, Colombia.
Recent years has seen rise of the Community Day, held each quarter, in which a group of committed graduates from past iEvolve programmes get together to take a stand for the next upcoming iEvolve programme, and to declare the role they will take in its generation and completion. Thus, we have come full circle, with the Community Health Foundation occurring once more as the community showing up to take on its own health, both individually and collectively. We invite you to co-create the next chapter in our story.