Funky fitness classes for the older adults are sweeping through Britain’s care homes – thanks to a 28-year-old from Scarborough.
The former personal trainer is bringing activities like ‘Strictly Fun Dancing’, cheerleading, pom-pom shaking and ‘Chairobics’ to care homes, bringing what he calls ‘an hour of joy’ to the lives of older people.
Graduate Ben Allen launched his award-winning social enterprise business, called Oomph!, just three years ago at the age of 26.
Since then more than 700 care homes have signed up to the party-style classes.
Around 100,000 older people, including those with dementia, have been involved in the upbeat sessions.
It’s creating a revolution in how older adults in care homes participate in physical activity to improve mental alertness and physical health.
“We aim for each session to provide an hour of joy in what can unfortunately be quite a silent life for many older adults in care homes,” says Ben. “We really are improving older adults’ quality of life.
“Our classes involve everything from rock ‘n’ roll routines to exercise to Second World War songs – and Zorba the Greek also seems to be going down extremely well.
“To see people’s eyes light up as they do a gentle jive and shake pom-poms to their favourite music is wonderful to see.”
After graduating from Hull University, Ben borrowed money from his parents Nick and Sara Allen – who run a seafronthotel in Scarborough – to qualify as a personal trainer.
He combined a variety of jobs in fitness with a love of travelling for five years before he returned to the UK permanently, and investigated setting up his own business working with older adults.
And it was when he visited care homes near his home that the idea for Oomph!, standing for ‘Our Organisation Makes People Happy’, was born.
“I realised there was a need to improve the quality of people’s lives in care homes,” says Ben.
“I wanted to help people benefit from exercise, while also creating a party atmosphere. That’s when the idea for Oomph! came along.”
Aided by Ben’s youthful charisma and drive, the business quickly took off leading to a network of trainers being employed to run classes. Many were young people who had struggled to find work during the recession.
As demand continued, Oomph! instructors trained care home staff themselves to run classes.
Clients include the largest care home groups, among them Bupa and Barchester, making Oomph! the UK’s most popular provider of care home exercise.
Sunnyview House, in Beeston, Leeds, is one of the care homes regularly holding classes.
Activities co-ordinator at the 84-bed Sunnyview House, Debbie Fawthrop said the Oomph! sessions had been ‘fantastic’ right from the start.
“We started off holding one class a week, but they have been so successful and popular that we now have two to ensure everyone who wants to take part can do so.
“The classes are really well structured, the Oomph! instructor has a great personality, and he really knows how to get our residents’ attention.”
Sunnyview House manager Jackie Foxton said: “These classes are really important. Our figures show a reduction in the number of stumbles and falls since Oomph! sessions started here just before Christmas.
“As well as the residents really looking forward to the classes, the exercise that they do has really improved the core strength of those that take part.”
Research for the Health Survey for England Adult Trend Tables shows only 7% of adults aged 75-plus are getting the minimum recommended levels of physical activity – which means a shocking 93% aren’t getting enough exercise
“We feel we are making a massive difference to quality of life for older people with these exercise classes. Importantly, they are also a bundle of fun,” says Ben.
“If you look at young people, they have all kinds of fun exercise classes, such as zumba, boxercise and boot camps to choose from. We’re trying to do something similar for people in care homes.
“Our own data is showing how our classes improve flexibility, mobility, balance, mood and alertness, and so can bring about a reduction in elderly people falling of up to 28%.”
Ben’s goal is to see Oomph! sessions in every residential home in Britain.
“We want Oomph! to be part of a drive to revolutionise standards in care homes, and so tackle a real social problem,” says Ben.
“Our goal is to make millions of older adults across the UK – and eventually across the globe – healthier and happier.”
In 2012, Ben was named Young Entrepreneur of the Year by Shell Livewire, the UK’s biggest community of young entrepreneurs.
He was the first social entrepreneur to win the award.
More than 400,000 older people live in care homes – a figure set to rise given the UK’s ageing population.