Graham and BIG Health and Fitness

Graham was once one of the heaviest men in the UK, weighing 52 stone. After battling obesity and mental health difficulties, he decided to have an operation in 2012. He went on to lose 35 stone and became a specialist personal trainer.

Graham and BIG

Graham decided to start a health and fitness club to help people like him who felt excluded from mainstream support and lacked the physical and emotional confidence to go to the gym.

There was nothing out there like this when I needed help. I’d try to go to gyms but thought everyone was looking at me. I worked with personal trainers, but some just didn’t get it or understand how to work with someone in my situation.

BIG Health and Fitness was founded in March 2016 by Graham. He runs the business with Jude, a long-standing friend and former client, who lost 4.5 stone with diet and exercise. BIG Health and Fitness provide personal training, group exercise classes, as well as training and motivational speaking, courses and workshops to obese people and people with physical and/or learning difficulties. They are based in a fitness club in Luton, Bedfordshire.

What helped?

Graham had a personal drive to provide a service that was missing when he was on his weight loss journey. He and his colleagues had personal experience that allowed them to provide empathetic support to their clients.

We wanted to provide support that empathised with people’s situation, put them at ease and delivered results

Graham has a personal story that helps inspire people, is used as an effective marketing tool and provides a role model.

My story helps get us heard and helps promote our service …Graham is a role model. They respect what he’s achieved and look up to him. He can inspire people and because he’d been through it, he knows how to empathise and put people at ease

Bringing on board Jude, a former client and old friend as a business partner, provided Graham with additional help and support.

It really helped Jude coming on board as my business partner. It was difficult doing it on my own and Jude and I complement each other

A local gym owner provided Graham and BIG with access to the gym and office space.

The manager of the gym has been really supportive. He saw the opportunity and has given us space to work from

Increasing recognition from, and relationships with, local community organisations and public bodies about their service have helped Graham and Jude to make BIG a success.

We’ve built good relationships with local organisations, like the Council, CCG and Disability Resource Centre. We’ve been recognised for our good work. It is starting to open doors

Challenges

Starting a business without experience has been a challenge and one made harder by a lack of local business support or mentoring that understood the sector in which BIG is operating.

Neither of us have run a business or community organisation before or knew much about the health and social care world, and there isn’t much help out there.

Gaining access to start-up and grant funding along with a steady and sustainable trading income has been an ongoing challenge for the BIG team. Many of BIG’s potential customers have ongoing health and/or care needs and there is potential for this to bring an income stream to the BIG business model. Graham, Jude and BIG have struggled to really understand and engage with public sector health and social care organisations.

We have paying clients, but some of our clients need funding and we need funding to deliver services. It’s a lot of work to get the funding we need. We don’t need a lot to run the business and we always said it is people before profit. But it’s been difficult…

Starting and running a business whilst living with personal health difficulties has also been a challenge.

It’s difficult enough setting up a business, let alone dealing with your own health issues at the same time

Achievements and impact

Setting up the business has been a real achievement for Graham and Jude. Since they started, they have supported over 200 people and have now trained 4 personal trainers to provide similar support.

In 2017 BIG gained the Dunstable and Houghton Regis Business and Community Awards; was MP’s Community Business of the Year and was awarded highly commended Business of the Year in the Luton and Bedfordshire Community Awards. In addition, BIG Health and Fitness have several stories where they have helped people to change their lives by losing weight, getting fitter and increasing their confidence.

We received this card from one of our clients. She’d been too obese to conceive. We helped her lose weight and she got pregnant. That’s why we do it. For stories like that.

The future

BIG Health and Fitness are ambitious. They want to help more and more people, both locally and nationally.

It is about taking baby steps at first. We want to help more and more people. We’re starting to get more interest and we’re optimistic for the future. The business is sustainable, so it is now about growing it locally and nationally