Introduction to Sempervivum

Reprinted from 1992 Sempervivum’s 21st Anniversary

Sempervivum, like other things that are always lively, has changed a lot over the years. It owes its origins, as do the Salisbury Centre and Wellspring, to Winifred Rushforth, who founded the Davidson Clinic in Edinburgh in 1939.

When the Clinic finally closed in 1973, Winifred in her closing speech quoted TS Elliot “in our end are our beginnings”. She said she would not be sad, as something new was sure to rise from the ashes.

The Davidson Clinic used to run Summer Schools. For a number of years Winifred would make a summer visit to her son Jock in Canada and enquire about what was new. She would then invite innovative people to be guest lecturers at the next Summer School and in this way important themes were introduced to the Edinburgh scene.

After the Clinic closed she used to get many letters from people saying how much they missed these annual events and couldn’t the Summer Schools continue even if the Clinic was closed.

The first renewal gathering took place in the Easter Holidays in the late sixties at Churches House in Dunbiane. The next year it was at Coodham Hall in Galloway, a centre run by the ‘Passionate Fathers’.

Then the venue was changed to the Otterburn Family Hotel in Northumberland until 1982, when it changed to Newbattle Abbey for that year. Since 1983 it has been at Laurieston Hall in Dumfries and Galloway.

The tradition of guest speakers continued for some years, culminating perhaps in Ronnie Laing’s visit to Coodham, remembered by many people as a turning point in their lives.

Among the themes Winifred introduced were Transactional Analysis, co-counselling, and Natural dance. After a while it was felt that enough people had been trained, particularly through co-counselling, for us to use our own leadership skills and this has continued.

Winifred also introduced the name Sempervivum. It came to her in Canada, walking in the countryside near Ottawa, where she saw these little plants spreading themselves over the walls. Like our organisation they don’t need a particular address or habitat, but seem able to make themselves at home where ever they are, in gardens, on walls, on roofs even. Each little plant is beautiful in its own right, of varying shades between green and pink. They don’t stay alone for long but spread by daughter rosettes growing out from the parent and eventually making a spreading cushion rooting itself along the wall or over the roof, taking what little nourishment they need from their environment.

The plant is also known as the ‘House Leek’- or country names such as the ‘Thunder Plant’ or ‘Jupiter’s Eye’, as the plants were thought to protect their houses from thunder and lightning. In the West country there was a belief that the leaves were good for healing cuts and bruises, so it was known as the ‘Healing-Blade’.

True to its name, Sempervivum has spread, and as well as the ever popular Easter Schools, runs non-residential Lenten Schools and Autumn Schools. These are gatherings much looked forward to by families and a wide circle of friends.

The spirit of Sempervivum is welcome, friendliness, all joining in from babies to grandparents – a fine blend of fun and seriousness, the old and the new, body and soul, a truly wholistic adventure.