Realising Health: The Peckham Experiment, Its Descendants, and the Spirit of Hygiea
This book examines the history of the Pioneer Health Centre in Peckham, South London, and the various offshoots to which it gave rise. A world-renowned experiment in health-creation, it was nevertheless forced to close in 1950; but its example and ideas have continued to inspire doctors, public health workers and community-builders. The text investigates the reasons why the Pioneer Health Centre and other initiatives have found it difficult to make headway. It looks at factors such as financial and administrative problems, various vested interests (including those of pharmaceutical companies and the medical profession), and, underlying these considerations, the tension between the principles of Hygiea (the goddess of healthy living) and Aesculapius (the god of healing and surgery). Our culture values those who try to put things right more than those who try to ensure they do not go wrong in the first place. The book opens with a thorough examination of the concept of health, sets the Pioneer Health Centre in its socio-historical context, and shows how a number of contemporary projects have been developed along broadly similar lines. It draws on many primary sources and on interviews with people committed to the cause of “realising health”.
Philip Conford holds degrees in Philosophy and European Literature. Having taught English in the FE system from 1974 until the end of 1998, he was awarded a PhD in History by Reading University, UK, in 2000. He served as a contributor to the Soil Association journal Living Earth from 1995 to 2014.
“In the introduction to his masterful book, Realising Health, Conford is unequivocal that health was at the beginning and centre of the organic movement, farming and food—which is where it should still be. But what is health? As Conford says, it is “an elusive concept”. He starts to pin it down from the first chapter and tracks it through the story of [the book]. This is a highly readable, informative, thought-provoking and at times uncomfortably challenging exposition of ideas, experiences and insights on health which have the potential to transform lives and society. […] The book, an antidote to ‘holistic’ clichés, is a must for anyone interested in health, nutrition, ecosystems and living networks, and especially for organic farmers and growers, who want to view them holistically.”
Whole Health Agriculture; Grower, No. 53, Winter 2020
“This magisterial study by a leading historian of the organic movement covers the history of the Pioneer Health Centre in Peckham and its various offshoots in different parts of the world. Underlying the narrative is a tension between health and medicine, represented by the Greek figures of Hygeia as the goddess of healthy living and Aesculapius as the god of healing and surgery. […] This book will be a valuable point of reference for many years to come.”
Journal of the Scientific and Medical Network, No. 135, 2021
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