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Changing Lives through Social Enterprise

Changing Lives through Social Enterprise

January 29, 2018

Supporting social enterprises, which have at their core a social or environmental ethos, is one of the Council’s aims through its Social Enterprise Programme.  The Council recently visited Alchemy, a past participant of the Programme, to learn how the business, Alchemy Fitness Therapies was reaching out to the local community to make lives better.

Recent reports suggest that social enterprise businesses are thriving across the UK, with an estimated 70,000 businesses contributing £24 billion to the economy.

Paul Oldham, Head Coach at Alchemy Fitness Therapies, was aware that many people find the typical gym environment alienating, and often do not have the confidence to venture to a gym, as they fear it would not be an environment they would feel comfortable in.

Paul said: “One of the reasons we set up Alchemy Fitness Therapies was to offer a gym that felt accessible to everyone, to provide an environment that people would feel comfortable in. We have just recently helped a young man who tried to avoid leaving home as much as possible and did not enjoy exercise of any kind. His mother grew increasingly concerned about his weight gain, and lack of confidence and desire to engage with the outside world, but through opening up a conversation with Ross about his anxieties, and his barriers to physical exercise, we were able to work through a tailored programme of support and activity for him. 

“It has been increasingly documented that Northern Ireland has higher levels of mental ill health than any other region in the UK, so one of Alchemy’s aims is to offer personalised training programmes to people from the local community, and to those struggling with mental health problems. We have also completed Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council’s Social Enterprise Programme, which has benefitted us considerably, and has provided us with the support and guidance that we needed to complete our all-important business plan, and financial forecasting.”

Ross Anderson, client & member of Alchemy Fitness Therapies, commented: “As a person with 8 years of agoraphobia, extreme anxiety, medical phobia and being excessively overweight I never thought I’d be regularly attending a gym.  From my first meeting with Paul I knew Alchemy Fitness Therapies was exactly what I needed.  The Team there are amazing, and I’ve never met anyone as knowledgeable and passionate about what they do as Paul & the team.  From the first few weeks of doing just a few minutes of breathing exercises and basic stretching, to now doing hour long workout sessions, it has not just started rebuilding my fitness and mental health, but my whole life.”

Alderman Allan Ewart MBE, Chairman of the Council’s Development Committee, added: “The Council’s Social Enterprise Support Programme is a successful innovative programme, which aims to stimulate new social enterprise and cooperative start-ups across the Council area.  It also supports existing social enterprises and cooperatives to grow their venture through tailored one to one support.

“Social enterprises and the social economy sector are being increasingly acknowledged as a core economic driver by playing a key role in revitalising our economy and generating employment. Alchemy Fitness Therapies is an excellent local example as it puts local people first and offers support to increase their confidence in a relaxed environment.  Social enterprises deliver much needed services, promote inclusion, change lives and provide employment.  We are very proud of the social enterprises we have operating in the Lisburn Castlereagh area.”

For more information on the Council’s Social Enterprise Programme please contact Patricia Mallon on 028 9250 9383 or email: