Reflections on 2018 at The Owl and The Coconut 


As we reach the end of 2018 I’m feeling grateful and reflective as I arrive home after an intensive few days on the Paul Hamlyn Foundations Ideas and Pioneers retreat. Um retreat, well that fooled me! It was less pamper and more Big Brother meets the Apprentice with added layers of social value and ethical trading for pioneering social change. Amazing and exhausting! I met loads of absolutely amazing people doing amazing things to change the world for the better!

It’s now 5am on my first night home, I’m back to the happiness of being with my husband, son and dog but I can’t sleep. My mind is buzzing with all the thoughts and actions inspired by the whole event and the amazing social entrepreneurs I have meet.

Reflecting back to January 2018, just eleven months ago Pam (Co-Director of The Owl and The Coconut) and I sat in Trove cafe, in Levenshulme, with no funding and no base to work from. Two therapists with a dream that mental health services must evolve and break out of the confines of ‘clinical settings’ to get to everyday people before crisis point. With higher and higher levels of people experiencing disabling symptoms stress, anxiety, depression and chronic pain, that change is needed now.


Word of our work has spread. How we were combining our experience of art therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, mindfulness and compassion to create workshops, events and courses, and delivering them in  every day venues like coffee shops and organisations like DePaul UK.

In February the Wellbeing manager of Manchester Art Gallery invited me in for a meeting. She invited me! I’m sat in an over sized chair, drinking an over sized coffee in the oversized hall of the gallery feeling very small. As I answer her questions, I hear myself talk and  I realised, ‘I know what I am talking about!’.

With the knowledge in our heads and the passion in our hearts Pam and I began to write funding bids. And people said yes!

  1. The Big Lottery

  2. The Manchester Wellbeing Fund

  3. Manchester City Council

  4. Santandar

  5. Paul Hamlyn Foundation

They all said yes!

The Nest

Team Owl and Coconut! Left to right: Alice, Janet, Pam, Gemma and Lauren 

The team behind Levenshulme Old Library, a beautiful building saved by the community, approach us to set up our base at the Library. In April 2018, we get the keys to our own space, which we named The Nest! And we began nesting. Feathering our Nest ready to open our doors and welcome people in.

Since then we began pilots of our mindfulness courses and drop in workshops and the feedback has blown us away.

We have supported group members to become volunteers with us and train to become course leaders! We’ve had GPs knocking at our doors saying “our patients are happier and healthier and they are saying it’s because they’ve been here! What are you doing and how can we help?”.

We’ve had leaders from churches, schools, pubs, support services, all kinds of places reaching out and linking up with us and it’s showing no signs of slowing down!

Thank you so much to all the people of Levenshulme and beyond for this warm welcome!


View of Woodland Grange where the Paul Hamyln Residential took place

The Ideas and Pioneers retreat provided me with some space away from The Nest to repeatedly say out loud who we are, what we do and what our mission is and this enabled me to return to our golden core, the thread that runs through all we do; “taking mental health tools out of clinical settings to everyday places so people have wellbeing tools before they need them. Prevention rather than cure.” Saying this over and over and refining it, has helped massively to revisit that core.

It’s very easy as a new organisation to feel grateful and say yes to anything and everything that comes your way. During a brilliant talk by the amazing Ruth Ibegbuna, who set up Reclaim, I joked that a couple of years ago she advised me to ‘be everywhere, go to everything, let everyone know you are here.’ And I did, which was amazing for networking and building the organisation but also confusing as it pulled us into other missions and could have blown the wind of our sails right off track. Ruth and I reflected that ‘getting out there’  is essential and goes hand in hand with having the  golden thread at your core, always in your awareness, to prevent ‘mission drift’.

End of 2018

Winter sun at Woodland Grange

This year has been amazing and as it begins to draw to a close, my wing woman and co director Pam gets ready to bring her second child into the world and enjoy her family maternity time.

As we welcome winter and the nights draw in and the days get shorter, this is a perfect time to retreat a little more. To take stock. To practice what we preach at The Owl and The Coconut, to Stop and to Notice, to inform what we Create. Next for me is a five day silent retreat, starting tomorrow! At Gaia House lead by the amazing Zohar Lavie of SanghaSeva an activist for social change who believes in “Meditation in action”. So expect along blog after this experience coming soon from me!

Perfecting timing to wind down to respect the season of winter, the harvest has been gathered now to let the soil replenish. Thinking like a squirrel; what you sow is what you grow. Be creative and mindful in choosing the seeds you are planting as those seeds grow your next harvest.

Good bye 2018. Now it’s time to rest.

By Gemma Bowden

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