Tara Johnson, a disabled mum of two, recently launched Tailored Leisure, which helps people to find luxury short breaks and wellbeing activities that are accessible to all. Here, she tells us how she came to develop the business, how she manages as a busy disabled working mum, and how Tailored Leisure could help you.
What was it like growing up with your disability? What challenges did you face and what positives came from it?
Having been born with cerebral palsy, my disability is something I have always known and, I suppose, accepted and faced head-on.
As a child, I was much more mobile and was able to walk with aids. However, following surgery before my teens that didn’t quite go to plan, things changed. I now spend most of my time in a powered wheelchair.
My teenage years were, like for many, my hardest. Having a disability made it felt somehow harder. I would see my friends go to parties, do activities and have sleepovers that I couldn’t attend because they weren’t accessible. For me, it was a huge struggle finding my place in the world.
However, as I got older, I didn’t let my disability stop me. In some ways, it has actually pushed me harder to achieve my goals and the things I want in life.
You have two teenage children and have worked with disabled and vulnerable people for a number of years. What achievements have you had and barriers have faced in your work and home life?
My biggest and proudest accomplishment has been the birth of my two children – Molly aged 14 and Jack aged 12. It hasn’t come without challenges though.
I have had people question my capability as a mother because of my disability, and faced barriers to simple family activities, such as going swimming or on holiday, because of accessibility, something that many take for granted.
In my work life, I have a degree in youth and community studies and have spent the last 20 years in roles working with vulnerable young people and families.
I currently work as an engagement officer for Health Watch South Tyneside. My job involves working with the community and looking at barriers people with a disability or long term condition face when trying to access leisure activities and short break holidays.
It has been these barriers in my own life that pushed me to start Tailored Leisure.
What are your experiences of accessing fitness and wellbeing activities as a disabled person?
Since having my children, like many mums, I have put on weight, lost confidence and lacked the motivation to do things for myself. In addition, going swimming or to the gym is traumatic because of my disability.
The water in the swimming pools is too cold and everyone stares at me when being hoisted in. With the gym, equipment isn’t always accessible and, even if it is, I always have to rely on a carer to come and help me.
I have always been conscious of keeping fit and maintaining my strength, as well as creating memories with my children on family holidays. But the barriers I have faced lead me to often give up or not carry on – and I am most definitely not the only disabled person to feel like this.
Tell us more about what made you decide to start a business around accessible holidays and wellbeing.
It’s something I have wanted to do since I was a child. When I was growing up, I always remember my parents struggling to book accessible holidays, and it was always overpriced because we needed it to be accessible.
As I grew up, I encountered the same problems myself, and it has got even harder. It’s incredibly difficult to find family rooms that accommodate my needs. They need to be big enough to fit a car full of equipment, most of which I take in case ‘accessible’ does not actually mean it is truly accessible.
I always get a sinking feeling as we arrive somewhere on holiday, wondering what it will be like. I have spent many family holidays unable to participate or confined to one area, painting on a smile to make sure my children enjoy themselves.
That is my personal experience, but as an engagement officer working with vulnerable families in the community for more than 20 years, I have seen that I am not the only one. There is still so much of a need and it was time I did something about it.
As one of my friends said to me last year, “When are you going to stop talking about making a change in services for people with disabilities and going to do it?” It was at that point I decided to contact my local business centre for support and registered as a not-for-profit community company.
We have already been in talks with local authorities and spoken to more than 100 families in the last month. We’re keen to get people’s thoughts on what they would like to see in a short break facility, so please do take our quick survey to help shape the service for all disabled people.
How can Tailored Leisure help disabled people and those with health conditions access leisure, breaks and wellbeing activities? What does it offer and how does it work?
Tailored Leisure supports people with disabilities and long term conditions have better access to leisure and short breaks through unique activity-based services in the North East and nationally. These will include both online sessions and volunteering opportunities.
Sit to be Fit at home
This is a lottery-funded project that enables disabled people to access a FREE 12-week instructor-lead seated exercise programme in different fitness areas.
It includes Iyengar Yoga, Boxercise and seated armchair exercises. All sessions are delivered once a week for an hour over zoom.
I actually tried Iyengar Yoga for the first time with this programme and I found it empowering. I never really saw myself being able to do yoga because of my body’s limitations, but I learnt that I can move in ways I never thought.
These classes are a great way to get fit, feel motivated by an instructor, exercise from the comfort of your own home independently and meet new people. Visit the exercise section on our website to sign up for a place.
We want to build a fully accessible hot tub within our residential garden surroundings, but we had to delay the launch because of Covid-19.
However, we are launching our accessible spa therapy sessions (whilst following government guidance) and are taking bookings NOW.
You can book as an individual or as a family with a maximum of four people at a cost of £8.50 per person per hour. Accessible spa parties are also available on request.
This is a great way to relax in hot water with hydrotherapy bubbles, exercise in the water or simply enjoy quality time with your family in a private environment without worrying about accessibility.
Short breaks in 2021
Going on holiday and finding somewhere accessible can often be a nightmare when you have a disability. I want to change that by building six to eight accessible cottages that are truly built with their customers feedback in mind.
We are working with three local authorities in the North East on the development of them, but need your feedback. Please fill in our quick survey and be in with a chance of winning a £50 amazon voucher.
We are always looking for people in the community to support the running and development of our projects and there are various roles available. Please visit the get involved section on our website to find out more.
If you would still like to support us but don’t have time to volunteer, you can help out by donating. As a not-for-profit organisation, we rely on grants and customer support to help others.
How do you find running a business and being a mum and still keeping active and finding time to relax? Do you have any tips for juggling a busy lifestyle?
Working two jobs and learning how to run a business has been a challenge, especially with two kids and trying to still have family time.
However, I have learnt so much along the way and seen the business go from strength to strength. I have also learnt that in business you cannot wear every hat, so you need others around you.
I have a fantastic team with lots of experience. It has shown me that it is okay to lean on others to make things happen in business and your personal life.
Since the Covid 19 pandemic, I have learnt that when you’re so busy rushing around, you often forget to take time to stop, take a breath and think about what you have achieved, where you want to be, how you can get there.
Most importantly, everyone needs to take time for themselves. There is always something else we think we should be doing, but you must give yourself time to breathe, however big or small!
What would be your top 5 tips for anyone with a disability or health condition to help keep active, healthy and maintain your mental wellbeing?
- Plan your meals for the week and prepare them in advance so that you can freeze them. If like me you need care support, keep them simple.
- Set yourself one daily goal around exercise or an activity you enjoy. Consider when the best time of day for you to do it. For example, for me, it would be in the morning as I am less tired and know I will get busy with work and life during the day. Also, start off small so that it’s more achievable.
- Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many things to do in one day. Take time to reflect and consider whether something really is a priority for that day or whether it can be done another time.
- Set yourself small goals over a week. I personally love having a small list of four things, and crossing them off makes me feel good about myself.
- Most importantly, be kind to yourself. No matter what barriers you face, we all have something we can do that will make us feel good, so give yourself time to do it. For me, meditation allows me to have a few minutes away from a busy life.
For more information or to get involved please contact me directly on 07861247658 or via our website www.tailoredleisure.co.uk. Why not also sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date
By Tara Johnson
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