Finding peace in Hertford

Experts by Experience: Profiles of entrepreneurs at different stages on their journeys, identifying and sharing some universal truths along the way.

Nic_in_TSS_reception (2)The Secret Space is well-named – tucked away off a bustling street in Hertfordshire’s county town. Outside is a courtyard (“it’s a real sun trap” I’m told) inside it’s serene, clean and calm … just the place for a first step into employment for people recovering from substance abuse.

The Secret Space is a centre for complementary therapies (including massage, acupuncture and reflexology) and yoga – designed to benefit both the providers and purchasers of those therapies. “It’s about bringing people back to their bodies, learning how to relax and deal with issues in a positive way without resorting to substances” explains Nicky Kearns, who manages The Secret Space (as the only paid employee).

What I love about social enterprises is that outsiders often can’t distinguish between paid staff and trainees (known as volunteers at The Secret Space). Nicky sums up her philosophy perfectly “We all aim to be professional, our personal stories aren’t important for business success”. And it occurs to me that there’s probably an even thinner dividing line between people with clinically diagnosed substance abuse issues and many who over-indulge in alcohol on an all too regular basis and deny they have a problem.

Complementary therapies are an astute offering for a social enterprise supporting people trying to leave behind an unhealthy past (diagnosed or otherwise). And, according to Nicky, it works on a number of levels for the volunteers “…Complementary therapies bring relaxation from stress, anxiety and pain, some of which may be brought on by other areas of their recovery – counselling, group work etc… When our volunteers learn how to give a treatment, the deeper understanding and the act of giving the treatment is very healing. If you give a treatment, it’s very relaxing and rewarding for you as well as your client.”

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The volunteers at The Secret Space gain skills and work experience in an area that is beneficial not just for their recovery now, but for coping with life in general. As well as learning about giving treatments, they may also learn about others aspects of setting up a business, customer service, sales and marketing, setting up a website. The expectation is that if people don’t move on to paid employment in complementary health, they will be able to use other skills, in reception, customer care, and administration for example, in other fields.

Just as the future for the first group of volunteers is unknown, so it is for The Secret Space itself. A child of the Crime Reduction Initiatives charity – a mere 5 month old toddler in fact – the enterprise has 2 – 3 years to become financially independent. Nicky knows it won’t be an easy adolescence, which is why it’s just as well she loves her work.

“ If you’re starting a social enterprise, it has to be something you’re passionate about because you’re going to spend a lot of time doing it. You need to enjoy it. Your business idea has to be financially viable, but you should also choose an area you have experience in and/or where you have good connections.”

For someone like me who’s not good at delegation, Nicky’s third and final bit of advice also resonates. “Don’t underestimate the people you’re working with – particularly when they’re volunteers. Learn to let go, people are very capable and if you give them the opportunity, they’ll learn.”

Discover the peace and tranquillity of The Secret Space at www.thesecretspace.org.uk

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