The National Spirituality & Mental Health Forum operates under the Charity Commission England & Wales and in association with stakeholders such as the UK government, the NHS, national mental health initiatives and religious institutions. The Board of Trustees meets at least twice a year to plan the role and work of the Forum and to address governance matters. 

Founding Member

In the mid-1990's a “Spirituality Forum”, of which Martin Aaron was a founding member, held meetings in London organised by Health Education Authority under the chairmanship of Dr. Lynne Friedli.  With his great interest in spirituality, Peter joined the Group.  He thereafter became a founder member of The National Spirituality and Mental Health Forum, and was one of its eighteen trustees. 


Spirituality had been part of human activity and experience for more than 70,000 years.  The evidence for this is to be found in the earliest cave drawings many of which can be seen in central and southern France.  It is only in the last 20 years particularly that there has been an extraordinary resurgence of interest, research and education in spirituality.  In the early nineties the number of papers written about nursing and spirituality was in single figures.  In 2009/10 the number had risen to over a hundred – truly phenomenal.


In 2001 on 11th of September, the twin towers in New York were destroyed and terrorism reached into the heart and soul of America in a way that could never have been envisaged.  One question raised in this country by this terrible event was the effect this would have upon Muslims living in the U.K. and upon their mental health.  The ever present dangers of terrorist attacks were further reinforced six years later on 7th July in London.


Two people who led nationally on the issue of Spirituality, Faith and Mental Health were Antony Sheehan and Peter Gilbert.  At the time Antony led and Peter worked for the National Institute for Mental Health in England (NIMHE), and, because of their concern and foresight, spirituality became one of the many strands in mental health which the NIMHE was promoting.  HM Government had given NIMHE the responsibility of modernising mental health services in England and Wales and, while its main focus was at a national level each strand had a lead director.  Peter was the lead for Social Care and Spirituality.  Later the central secretariat was reduced so that the work could be carried out in 9 Regional Centres.  At the time I chaired the East Midlands Region and Caroline Steele who had been seconded from the Department was its director.

Subsequent to 9/11 and the establishment of NIMHE, Peter had become an iconic figure in the U.K. in the world of spirituality and mental health.  He had travelled the length and breadth of the country from his home in Worcester and also visited the Channel Isles, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to promote the importance of spirituality in the field of mental health.  His writings had an influence internationally.  After 5 years HM Government decided to subsume the work of NIMHE and its regions into newly established local authority regions which was completed in early 2008.


It was just at this time that as a result of the Treasury's cut-backs in the Department of Health's budget, that funding for the eight year Spirituality Project was brought to an unfortunate end. Immediate consultations were held with ministers, MPs and the senior officer at the DoH who was the Advisor to the Secretary of State for Health, without success.


The National Spirituality and Mental Health Forum then applied to the Department of Health to continue the work of promoting spirituality in NHS mental health units and among faith communities.  Martin applied on behalf of the Forum and was successful in obtaining a three year grant from the Department of Health.  The grant which was made available in April 2009 was to employ a Project Lead and two Field Officers for one day a week each. Peter was appointed as the Project Lead. 


When the grant ended in April 2012, Peter continued the work on a voluntary basis up until December 2013. In the mid-1990's a “Spirituality Forum”, of which Martin Aaron was a founding member, held meetings in London organised by Health Education Authority under the chairmanship of Dr. Lynne Friedli.  With his great interest in spirituality, Peter joined the Group.  He thereafter became a founder member of The National Spirituality and Mental Health Forum, and was one of its eighteen trustees.


Martin recalls his great enthusiasm in promoting spirituality as an essential element of a person’s life, whether religious or not.  Through his work in the field of mental health, Peter assisted the Forum in increasing its national coverage, membership and attendees at the many half-day meetings, seminars and conferences. His dedication to the importance of spirituality, particularly in mental health, but in healthcare generally, has inspired many to develop further knowledge and research in the subject.


Peter was married to Sue and they have three children and one grandson who is very special.  After school at the age of eighteen Peter joined the army at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and, while there, went up to Balliol College Oxford,  to read Modern History.  After University, he became a trainee social worker and ended his professional social work career as Director of Social Services for Worcestershire. From 2001 he was been deeply involved in the Spirituality programme.  He was a member of a running club and it was one way in which he expressed his own spirituality, not least because of the natural community which develops of like-minded people.  


Another avenue he used to articulate his spirituality was through his own Catholic faith community where he was not only highly regarded but where he had also been influential in raising the importance of mental health in today’s society.  Peter contributed to Ben Bano’s guidance for parish communities. Peter’s own interests in spirituality moved far beyond the world of mental health and included areas such as spirituality and leadership. He wrote extensively about spirituality and, as well as editing books and writing papers, has managed to write a number of books himself.  A definitive list is attached.


Whenever Peter presented spirituality,  for a conference of 200 people or a seminar for 20 professionals, he always made the point that he had suffered with mental health problems himself and so understood the user perspective from within.  It is extremely sad that he had to contend with the pernicious and destructive illness known as motor neurone disease. This sapped his strength and his ability to continue with his very heavy work load (see his latest report to the Forum Trustees).  Everyone in the field of spirituality owes Peter a great debt of gratitude for his unerring courage in driving forward a not always popular area of human concern, his strong work ethic, his readiness to be available to a whole range of people, his amazing ability to network, and his stoicism in the face of adversity. He was unique."  For those unaware, Peter sadly passed away during 2014 and is hugely missed by so many.

Emeritus Archdeacon The Ven. Arthur Hawes  (Edited copy)  May, 2014


The Forum was founded in the 1990s as a vehicle to improve mental health provision. We are now a community of community leaders, practitioners and service users who come together in London and across the UK at talks and workshops on a regular basis.


The National Spirituality & Mental Health Forum
36 Greenacres, London, N3 3SF, UK


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