Salt of the Earth: Meet Simon and Janette Town - the mother and son team keeping Scarborough in shape

One thing we have all become conscious of since lockdown began is the state of our health.

Thursday, 23rd July 2020, 9:00 am
Updated Thursday, 23rd July 2020, 9:06 am
Simon and Janette in the studio

At the start of the pandemic, one of the few ways to escape the house was to go out for daily exercise, but for those shielding or unable to go outside, daily exercise became more of a challenge.

Many looked to online sources for suitable exercise programs, Joe Wicks became the nation’s PE teacher and presented daily exercise sessions for children.

These were great, but for the older generation, for whom leaping around in a Spiderman costume maybe wasn’t the best idea, there weren’t such widely publicised options.

Simon and Janette looked for ways to help people during lockdown

This week’s Salt of the Earth’s saw that a solution was needed and asked what they could do to help.

Mother and son team Janette and Simon Town run Roots of Yggdrasil, a Scarborough-based community interest company (CIC).

Normally they take their exercise classes out into community centres and village halls, but once unable to reach people that way, they decided to move their exercise routines online.

Service user Donald Cooper, who nominated the pair for Salt of the Earth, said: “Throughout lockdown Simon and Janette have posted gentle daily exercises on Facebook to encourage us all to keep active.

Simon and Janette filming an exercise video

“They have also made exercise videos on YouTube for the elderly, homeworkers and carers, all of which have been amazing and easy for most of us to do.”

Simon, 28, said: “When lockdown hit we realised we needed to keep helping people, needed to have a daily exercise.”

The former University of Hull student, who graduated from the Scarborough Campus with a degree in ecology, said: “I used all my research skills to put together a selection of over 1,000 exercises people can do at home.”

They have tried to keep all of their exercises simple with the use of resistance bands, balls and two foam rollers.

Janette said: ““Simon is a qualified ecologist. He’s brilliant when it comes to research. He doesn’t accept things at face value.

“We thought that if we do it properly we can really make a difference.

“We converted a bedroom into a studio and Angela Fletcher from Happy Futures donated £2,000 to enable us to buy a video camera and accessories.

“We are doing anything we can do to help. Whitby Disability Action Group (DAG) suggested that we make activity packs for their clients.

“We received a grant of £500 and Scarborough Digital laid a leaflet out for nothing and printed 2,000 brochures with 13 exercises in.”

The duo are now looking for ways to distribute the leaflets to those who need them and are urging people to get in touch if they would like one.

One of Roots of Yggdrasil’s main aims is to bring people out of social isolation. They cover Scarborough, Whitby and Ryedale.

The CIC is limited by shares. Janette said: “We don’t want to make a profit, but we do need to earn an income.” They currently plough 60% of their profits back into the company and donate a further 15% to the community.

Janette, who worked for 30 years as a financial advisor, said they are keen to get classes up and running again: “We’ve done a risk assessment and if we can get a church hall big enough we could run classes.

“We just want to help people. I don’t care what people are doing as long as they’re moving and having fun.

“One of the reasons that I’m doing what I’m doing is because I have arthritis in my hands. When I am running classes I find that I don’t need to take my medication as much.”

Simon said: “Mental wellbeing is a beautiful by product of the fitness stuff.

“We need to move more anyway and general exercise helps a person’s quality of life and length of life.

Simon, who is originally from Penistone, near Barnsley, said the area Roots of Yggdrasil work sits pre-and post physiotherapy. In fact, they are still looking for a local physiotherapist to work with to refer people to post therapy.

He said: “Our classes are all about having fun, meeting new people and building a support group around yourself.

“Even if you don’t want to come to classes, the knowledge is out there to allow people to help themselves.

“The classes we run break even at best, we want to form a relationship with Scarborough and the surrounding area so we can work together and help the town.

“I love this town, if we can all get together and help each other out that’s a fantastic basis to build a community.

“Get in touch through Facebook or via the website.”

Angela Fletcher, of Happy Futures, said: “I raise a lot of money for charity, my thing is giving back to the community which is what they’re all about.

“In fact, Janette has just started doing exercises with my mum. Since lockdown my mum has been frightened to go out and she has been bending over a lot, she needs help with her posture.”

To maintain social distancing Janette has been doing the exercises in the garden while Angela’s mum copies her in the conservatory!

Tim Vasey, manager of Scarborough DAG, said: “What Simon and Janette offer is helpful for our customer base who wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to participate in the range of activities in a welcoming environment.”

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