The Westminster Pastoral Foundation is the leading provider of counselling, psychotherapy, training and research in England. It is estimated that one in six adults have a common mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety disorders. Yet in the 1960s counselling as a means of helping people in emotional and psychological distress was virtually unknown. So the WPF was an exciting, and daunting, pioneer venture which called for creative imagination and courage.
Bill Kyle was a Methodist minster informed by the best in the Christian tradition of compassionate service. In 1965 he submitted to the Rev. Leslie Davison at the Home Mission Department a substantial memorandum in which he proposed the setting up of a ‘London Methodist Centre or Foundation of Pastoral Care’, along the lines of the Highgate Counselling Centre he had established in 1960. His proposals drew on pioneering American and Australian examples of combining social casework and pastoral counselling. Following a year’s study leave in America, he set up the ‘Pastoral Foundation’ in basement rooms at Westminster Central Hall. It was formally opened on 27 May 1970 and was supported by a succession of early Presidents: Lord Rank until 1972, Dr. Leslie Weatherhead to1976 and George Thomas, Lord Tonypandy until 1984.
Funded initially by the Home Mission Department and the London Mission, from 1974 it received Home Office support. Beginning with a very small team convinced that it had something effective to offer, its first decade has been described as ‘a time of risk-taking experiment and vision, increasing establishment but considerable uncertainty of aim’. Training courses were developed alongside the counselling services. Questions of accreditation and of standards in the training programme had to be addressed.
By 1978 the Foundation had outgrown its original premises and moved to a new home with the Sisters of the Assumption in Kensington Square. Following Kyle’s early death in 1980, under his successor Derek Blows, an Anglican priest, there was a period of ‘huge expansion, but also much greater coherence of institutional purpose’, characterised as a time of ‘secularization and diversity’. With an expanding repertoire of services and training opportunities, the Foundation took its place amongst such other movements as Dr. Frank Lake’s Clinical Theology Association. In 2008 another landmark was reached with the move to purpose-built premises near London Bridge, enabling the Foundation to respond to the ever-growing demand for its services.