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  • Neil Pillai

Tenterden Mindfulness Group - A Short History

Tenterden Mindfulness Group (TMG) came into being following a series of events in the life of it’s founder Dr Neil Pillai, a local GP.

We all experience distress of one kind or another. It is part of the human condition. For many people this can lead to a deterioration in wellbeing which impacts not just on the individual but on those they come into contact with. And as social beings who interconnect on a daily basis the effects of this can be felt by many.

In January 2013 I realised I needed to do something to address my own wellbeing and via a couple of YouTube videos stumbled upon a book Mindfulness-How to Find Peace in a Frantic World by Professor Mark Williams and Danny Penman. It was an 8 week programme where each day for 10 to 20 minutes I listened to meditations on a CD. Within a few weeks I experienced changes in how I was relating to both myself and those around me, and an increased sense of wellbeing and happiness was the outcome.

It was hard to explain how this had happened and so I decided to explore this further by attending a Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course at Oxford University’s Oxford Mindfulness Centre (OMC) in September 2013. They, together with other research centres around the world, were giving an increasingly strong scientific evidence base to the practice of Mindfulness.

This course and my ongoing meditation practice cemented the benefits in my own life that Mindfulness had brought. As a GP I was in the privileged position of being allowed into the personal lives of my patients and I recognized that Mindfulness had the potential to help many more people, not just in dealing more effectively with the challenges that life inevitably throws us but by learning to appreciate what’s already here and so to live a more flourishing life in the midst of it all.

I attended a Mindfulness Teacher Training course in September 2014 held by the OMC in Somerset and having made contact with an experienced Mindfulness teacher in Canterbury Dr Marcus Averbeck, we delivered together the first public 8 week MBCT course in Tenterden, Kent in January 2015.

Several more public courses and regular evening sessions followed for those who had completed a course. Mindfulness was becoming more well known in the public domain and it’s potential in improving wellbeing in society was highlighted in a comprehensive report by the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group, Mindful Nation UK. This was published in October 2015 and made recommendations supporting the use of Mindfulness-based Interventions in the fields of Health, Education, the Workplace and the Criminal Justice System.

There was an increasing demand locally for Mindfulness courses and events and so a call was put out to support this work in early 2016, and the response was wonderfully positive.

On 9th March 2016 the first meeting of Tenterden Mindfulness Group was held. This group of volunteers, who had seen for themselves the benefits Mindfulness had played in their own lives, supported the organizational aspects required to deliver several public 8 week courses a year, Mindfulness days and evening sessions too. It also allowed for an expansion of Mindfulness courses into different areas.

Following a dramatic increase in stress and burnout amongst NHS GPs, in May 2016 a Royal College of GP funded course was held by TMG for 22 GPs in Ashford. The results were overwhelmingly positive and published in the medical press in 2018. Further GP courses have since been held in Folkestone and Margate and further research is currently being undertaken in conjunction with Kent University.

It is well recognized that the roots of mental illness start in childhood and the provision of mental wellbeing services for children has fallen short of what is required. TMG has been working within local schools to address this.

TMG delivered its first course for schoolteachers at Tenterden Junior School in January 2018 and has delivered 2 further schoolteacher courses in Kent since. Following on from this TMG has supported the training of 2 Mindfulness teachers to deliver courses for primary schoolchildren.

TMG has always been a not for profit organization and in 2017 a decision was made to make the transition to become a Charity. TMG was fortunate to recruit a high calibre board of 7 Trustees, a user Focus group and in May 2018 employed an administrator.

On 17/12/18 Tenterden Mindfulness Group became a Charitable Incorporated Organisation Charity Number 1181209.

TMG has made connections with accredited Mindfulness teachers across Kent to be able to increase the range of services it can offer. As well as continuing to work in schools and with healthcare professionals it is hoped to deliver more Mindfulness based services to patients with healthcare needs, possibly through linking up with the NHS.

There is still much work to be done and none of this would be possible without the support of all those involved with TMG, from course participants to Trustees.

There is finally an increasing recognition of the importance of mental wellbeing not just to support the flourishing of individuals but to help us to flourish in our communities, both locally and globally.

Mindfulness is one way of learning to relate to our experiences in more helpful ways than we may have done in the past. We then give ourselves more of a chance to live our lives in ways that support our own wellbeing and those of those around us. But like any skill, it does require training and practice and TMG aims to support this in whatever way it can.

Dr Neil Pillai

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