One of the most respected homeopathic colleges in the country celebrates its silver jubilee tomorrow. Health Editor Barry Nelson pays a visit to homeopathy's northern outpost.

NOT far from the shiny new Hilton Hotel on Gateshead's upmarket Quayside is a slightly down-at-heel Victorian building that harks back to an earlier age. Swinburne House was once Gateshead's central library but these days a large brass plaque on its honey-coloured stone facade reads: "The Northern College of Homeopathic Medicine".

To get to it from Newcastle you have to brave the roaring torrent of cars, lorries and bushes zooming past on the Tyne Bridge and pick your way through the sorry concrete 1970s architecture on the Gateshead side.

But once you are admitted to the college's home and ascend the elegant staircase to the building's first floor you are in a calm, light-filled oasis with white walls and book-lined walls.

Greeted by a dozen smiling homeopathic tutors, students and practitioners attending the college's open day, it is impossible not to feel immediately at ease.

It seems appropriate that a college dedicated to the ancient principles of healing revived by 19th German doctor and chemist Samuel Hahnemann should be housed in such historic surroundings.

Despite astonishing advances in medicine in the last 50 years and the continuing hostility of some doctors towards homeopathy, the practice of this form of healing, which dates back to the 5th century BC, has gone from strength to strength.

There have probably never been so many practising homeopaths in the North-East as there are today and that is no doubt a reflection of the role played by the Northern College.

Since it was set up in a rented room above a health food store near Newcastle United's football stadium 25 years ago this month, the college has established itself as one of the country's most respected centres of homeopathic learning.

The numbers of students enrolling in the college's demanding four year, part-time course has more than doubled in the last two years. Homeopathy has been described as a patient-centred form of health care since the trained homeopath focuses on bringing the whole person into balance rather than looking for medicines which might temporarily relive the condition.

Each patient is considered to be a unique individual and the remedy chosen has to fit the symptoms experienced by the patient as closely as possible.

Controversially to some, homeopaths prescribe remedies made from all sorts of substances, plants, rock and other minerals to 'treat' conditions as varied as eczema, asthma, migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, menopause, arthritis, depression and chronic fatigue.

Scientists have questioned whether these remedies can have any medicinal effect as, according to homeopathic tradition, the active ingredients are diluted to the extent that only a tiny trace remains.

The continuing popularity of homeopathy comes as no surprise to Glynis Ingram, a registered homeopath who attended the college not long after it was set up and is one of its most experienced course tutors.

"At any one time we have about 45 to 50 students enrolled on our four-year course, " says Glynis, who was a teacher before becoming a homeopath.

"Every time homeopathy gets a mention on the news or in the papers we get more inquiries. At least more people know that what we do is not the same as aromatherapy.

"We get a huge variety of people who come to us wanting to become homeopaths.

"What is common to them is that they are sufficiently committed to go through what is a very vigorous training course."

Like most homeopaths, Glynis got involved because she was amazed and intrigued at the difference homeopathic remedies made to her life.

"I went to see Rema Handley, one of the founders of the college, and I was completely amazed that a couple of homeopathic remedies put right something that been wrong for a long time. I remember thinking to myself, I have got to find out what this is all about," she says.

Glynis, who also helps to run the college's database and library, likes the way homeopathy tunes in to what makes each human being different and special.

"We try to change things on a very personal level. That is why we will spend a couple of hours during a consultation, finding out all the little fragments that have gone into making someone who they are and then reflecting that in the remedy," she says.

Recalling the early days of the college, she remembers how it moved from rented room to rented room until Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council agreed to lease a floor at the cavernous Swinburne House to the college in the early 1990s.

"It is a wonderful place to be. We have six rooms we use for counselling, classrooms and office space. The best room is a former studio which is toplit and always filled with light," says Glynis, who lives in Ryton, Northumberland.

While the first wave of students at the Northern College came from the region, its growing reputation ensured its catchment area spreads far and wide.

"We still have people who come here from the far north of Scotland, the West Country and London. We have even had people from Norway," says Glynis.

Like Glynis, Denice Sheppard became interested in homeopathy after she saw the remarkable effect remedies had on her baby son's eczema.

"I tried hydrocortisone cream but that didn't work and then someone suggested I should try a homeopath," saysDenice, who now practices homeopathy from her home in Durham City.

"His skin improved and I continued to use homeopathic remedies for other childhood ailments such as teething. It seemed to work and I wanted to understand what it was all about."

Denice's regular homeopath turned out to be a tutor at the Northern College and Denice, working as a police fingerprint officer at the time, plucked up courage and went to an open day.

"The atmosphere was was lovely, so calm. I signed on and I absolutely loved the course," she says.

"You learn to help other people but you also learn so much about yourself." She says she is "a better and more confident person" as a result of her studies.

"It is such a privilege to have someone trust you enough that they can tell you how things have gone in their lives and how it has affected them.You build a special relationship with clients and they keep coming back."

Vickie Hedley, from Wylam in Northumberland, has just completed her second year and is looking forward to starting her third year in September.

A growing fascination with homeopathy, which saw her 'treating' friends and family, led her to enrol at the college.

"I was so into homeopathy and a friend said 'why don't you do it properly?' The time seemed right so I signed up for the course," says Vickie, who is a social auxiliary working with disabled people.

She describes the course as "challenging but completely life-changing" and loves every minute.

Gemma Sleighthome-Kilbridge, from South Shields, is in the same year as Vickie. She got interested after attending a basic homeopathic first aid course run at a women's centre in South Tyneside.

"It was fascinating and I wanted to learn more. It is phenomenal really, hard work but exciting," says Gemma, who aims to become a registered homeopath.

Tomorrow, past and present students will get together at the college to mark a quarter of a century with strawberries and champagne.

The Northern College of Homeopathic Medicine looks set for another 25 years.

* For information about low cost clinics run by the college visit or ring 0191 4900 274/6.