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Leisure Management
2018 issue 1

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Leisure Management - Spice of life

Social good

Spice of life

Oomph! founder Ben Allen is on a mission to bring more variety to the lives of elderly people living in residential homes. First he brought them exercise, now he is facilitating days out. Kath Hudson reports

Kath Hudson
Ben Allen has overcome care home budget constraints to help boost residents’ quality of life
Oomph! uses varied and enjoyable activities to get people moving and help them feel stimulated PHOTOS: PAUL SLATER IMAGES
Oomph! uses varied and enjoyable activities to get people moving and help them feel stimulated PHOTOS: PAUL SLATER IMAGES
Oomph!’s exercise sessions are fun and try to create a party atmosphere PHOTO: SIMON DEWHURST PHOTOGRAPHY
As well as exercise sessions, Oomph! also provides training for art and music-based activities

When you talk to people living in care homes, and witness their quality of life, you see their frustration,” says Oomph! founder Ben Allen. “Take away the time they are sleeping, being fed and cared for, and they still have 11 hours a day when they need to be given a reason to live. A real life is a varied life, not lived exclusively indoors, which is the current experience of many people in residential care.”

Allen believes most people working in the sector, including commissioners, want better for their charges, yet finances are always an issue. Allen has set about removing these barriers, creating cost effective solutions to, firstly, exercise and now day trips.

Exercise party
As a fitness instructor, Allen specialised in exercise for older people. After travelling abroad, he returned to his home town of Scarborough and noticed two things symptomatic of seaside towns: lots of care homes, and high levels of unemployment and seasonal employment.

“I thought I could solve two problems at once, by training unemployed people to deliver fitness sessions in care homes,” he says. “Full of optimism, I visited the care home opposite my parents’ house with the idea of introducing chair-based exercise classes. The manager was also optimistic and up for trying it.”

Oomph! was born. Unlike previous exercise interventions for elderly people, which were clinically led and therefore a bit stale and boring, Oomph! was all about fun, creating a party-style atmosphere with activity as a by-product. Demand was good and the concept swiftly caught on, with 200 care homes buying in Oomph! services and 30 fitness instructors being employed.

However, because of the cost to the home, the old people were only getting to do an exercise session once or twice a month, which wasn’t enough to bring about any meaningful benefits.

“Care home budgets are constrained: they want to provide the service, but it’s expensive for them,” says Allen. “We looked at how we could improve the frequency and impact, which led to a pivot in the business model. Instead of sending in our own instructors, we started training care home staff to run the sessions. They already have relationships with the residents and are ideally placed to deliver the sessions.”

As a result, the cost per session plummeted from £45 per session to £6, which was cheap and sustainable. Now Oomph! works in more than 1,000 care homes across the UK and clocked up 940,000 participant hours last year, with people taking part three times a week on average.

“We have partnered with universities and appointed a head of impact to constantly monitor and analyse results,” says Allen. “An evaluation by Cumbria University showed a 14 per cent improvement in quality of life in our latest annual impact report, measured via industry standard tool EQ 5D-SL. The survey was done before and after the intervention and assesses self-reported wellbeing.”

Allen didn’t stop there, keen to find other ways of stimulating care home residents, a second service was launched in 2015. Activity Leadership in Care is all about running other life-affirming activities, such as art, music and singing. A qualification is offered and homes that subscribe receive support, resource packs and ideas to run the activities. This costs £3,000 to £4,000 per home, and includes an annual package of support and training for multi-disciplinary staff teams and managers in exercise and activities leadership. So far Oomph! has trained around 2,000 co-ordinators in 1,000 care settings.

Day trippers
Both interventions have had a huge impact on the quality of life for the residents, but Allen was concerned that it was all still based indoors: “People said they wanted to feel the wind on their faces again.”

The idea to launch a minibus service began to take root. “Getting residents out is difficult because it’s so expensive,” says Allen. “A minibus costs up to £2,400 per month, but in reality they’re used about three times a month, so the cost per hour is up to £800. Added to this, many homes have a bus, but no driver.”

Allen devised a plan where 10 to 20 care homes could pool a minibus, and in 2017, the first five minibuses were acquired, along with drivers. The cost per trip now is £160 for eight people, including staff.

“The homes using the service are running two trips a week on average,” says Allen. “We do all the risk assessments of a destination, check out the disabled access and visit care homes to find out where the residents want to go. Sometimes it’s Marks and Spencers to go shopping. Another time, someone said they wanted to drink gin, so we organised a trip to Bombay Sapphire Distillery.”

To keep the offer varied, Allen is keen to engage with different types of leisure venues and build partnerships with leisure operators who offer suitable day-trip destinations. “Swimming pools or cinemas offering dementia-friendly screenings would be great. There’s little required of the operator, other than a welcome.”

Oomph! currently has five minibuses, but Allen says this will expand to 300 within three years, across the country, liberating elderly people from a life spent indoors. “The service will keep growing and we’re full of ideas,” says Allen. “I’ve gone from seeing people scream in frustration to laughing and having fun – it’s very rewarding.”


4.6/5 = average participant rating for trips

71% were more physically stimulated

83% were more socially engaged

88% had an improved mood

83% of the staff said at least half of the residents were more engaged in other activities after going on trips

64% of participants were wheelchair users

Out & About

Brooklands Museum of Motoring and Aviation
A former motoring journalist, 94-year-old Martin, asked to visit the Brooklands Museum of Motoring and Aviation, a place he had been to many times, as a child and a journalist.

It was the first time he had opted to go on a trip, and it inspired him to pick up a pen, for the first time in many years, to record the trip. He is now planning more articles for his care home in Epsom.

“I haven’t actually written anything for a long time, so when this opportunity came up to start again, it was wonderful,” said Martin.

His activity leader, Debbie Bailey, said she was delighted to see the difference in Martin: “He’s taken a lot from this trip. It’s actually brought back a lot of his old passion and all the lovely feelings he used to have about work.”

Bombay Sapphire Distillery
Eve used to travel a lot. She lived in Malaysia and used to buy gin from the market. When she said she’d like to drink gin again, Oomph! arranged to take her to a gin distillery. As some of the residents and their families had worked there, it had special meaning.

Eve loved the trip. Laura Hack, activity leader at the home, said it helped them to connect with Eve again: “Eve is a very funny lady who makes us laugh every day, but with her dementia it can be hard to reach her.”

Kew Royal Botanical Gardens
One lady didn’t go on the trips because she suffered from anxiety, but a chance to visit Kew Gardens again piqued her interest. The excursion eased her anxiety and since then she has participated in many other trips – and persuaded other residents to go along.

“It was lovely to be back at Kew Gardens, it felt like coming home,” she said. “Like holidays you take when you’re younger, there are always happy memories when you get back.”


A visit to a transport museum inspired a resident to write again

A trip to the Bombay Sapphire Distillery meant a lot to the residents

For any national or regional leisure groups who think they’d make a great destination for Out & About trips, please contact benjamin@oomph-wellness.org about partnership opportunities

Originally published in Leisure Management 2018 issue 1

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