Exercise classes make for strong business

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EXERCISE classes are being provided in the care sector for young people with learning difficulties through to elderly sufferers of dementia by a rapidly expanding Yorkshire-born business.

Ben Allen, from Scarborough, founded The Oomph! in May last year, starting with a class in the town’s Dunollie Care Home, located opposite his parents’ home. And he has seen the popularity of his classes rocket.

Today, 7,000 to 10,000 people take part in the firm’s classes every month, which are given across the North of England.

The classes, which offer exercise, dance and arts and craft therapies, are also aimed at elderly people in residential care homes, people recovering from a stroke or cancer, and those with mental illness.

Mr Allen said: “The success of the business has been phenomenal. We are young but we are growing very fast. We grew by 40 per cent last month in terms of class numbers.

“We went from roughly 220 classes to around 340.”

The business is currently generating an annual turnover of £200,000, and pre-tax profits of around £80,000, said Mr Allen.

By the end of the calendar year, Mr Allen forecasts that the business will be running 1,000 classes per month and he expects turnover to have jumped to around £500,000 by that point.

The Oopmh!’s customer base includes Bupa, Maria Mallaband Care Group and Barchester care homes, with which it works on a regional level.

Although the business is currently focusing on the North of England, it expects to reach the South in six months’ time.

The firm is also working with charity The Wright Foundation to develop a course training staff in the care sector so they can work in an exercise setting with residents, and The Oopmh! is also the preferred supplier of exercise by the Independent Care Group, said Mr Allen.

The name of the business stands for: Our Organisation Makes People Happy. And that ethos drives the company, said Mr Allen.

He explained: “I’m very fortunate that we’ve done well.

“But my main aim for each class is to go into a care home, try and stimulate, interact with and inspire, and when that happens, it’s golden.”

The business, which uses contract staff and has a 17-strong team, gives classes in a number of Yorkshire care homes including Wellburn care homes such as Rosevale in York, Nightingale Hall in Richmond, Grimston Court in York and Riverhead Hall in Driffield.

Mr Allen said: “They are not meant to be hardcore exercise classes, they are to provide an hour of joy.

“When you go into the care sector, care homes are often very quiet, people are often anxious or depressed.

“They need some form of creative expression and we provide as many people as possible with this avenue.”

It is “hugely powerful”, he explained, if you can provoke voluntary and meaningful movement in people.

Mr Allen said: “They take it on to other avenues of life.

“You are taking people who generally don’t leave their bedrooms and don’t interact with other people and you’re putting them in a setting laughing with each other.”

He added: “The classes themselves are very popular. We’ve just done a large feedback review from the care homes and it was stunning.”

At each class, the residents are greeted individually and are deemed fit for exercise.

Mr Allen said: “We then gradually prepare each person for exercise through mobilisation – a warm-up basically.

“Then the bulk of the class involves chair-based Zumba, salsa, cha cha or cheerleading.

“That’s our most popular class. It is very easy for people to follow.”

Recently, Mr Allen won two social entrepreneur awards – a Shell LiveWIRE Grand Ideas Award and UnLtd Level 2 award for creating outstanding social change.

With the latter, he was awarded £15,000 and advice from high growth SME advisers.

Mr Allen will be speaking at the national conference of the Independent Care Group in April, and at the annual conference of The Wright Fund in May.