Covid was the catalyst for the Pilates instructor and rehabilitation specialist launching The Ostomy Studio five months ago when her face-to-face classes for cancer patients and hospice work in Sussex were put on hold. With a £4,000 Bounce Back Loan from her bank Lloyds, the sole trader now has mix-and-match virtual services including live one-to-one and group sessions backed by a growing library of competitively priced videos. No one understands better than Russell, who is among 120,000 in the UK living with a stoma, the discomfort and struggles of those facing surgery or coping afterwards.
That combined authority of accessible products and personal experience has brought The Ostomy Studio a stream of customers, both women and men, from across the UK and beyond in India and Australia.
“From my own experience when you have a cancer diagnosis or surgery it affects your confidence, you don’t know where to start or how to exercise safely,” says Russell.
“People are scared to exercise and often told to ‘take it easy’. While that is important so too is movement to get their lives back on track.
“People can wait months before coming to me when in fact there are so many benefits to starting earlier if they can begin exercising during their cancer treatment or soon after. We need to encourage recovery and movement.
“As far as I know this is the only service like this in the world, there is a lack of structured rehab after surgery. My services are very professional and people feel safe and reassured they are doing the right thing.
“The exercises transfer to daily life. As people become fitter they become more confident about the basics such as lifting a child or a bag of shopping. Some find they can even do things that they could not attempt before the cancer.”
Russell sees The Ostomy Studio becoming the main part of her business and turning over £150,000 by 2023.
She was already thinking of the online potential for her work when the Covid support Bounce Back Loan scheme was offered.
“It pushed me into it and made all the difference,” says Russell who built her own Wix website, invested in a professional director for the video content and a solicitor to draw up the legal T&Cs and a big screen so she could see what the moves her customers were making.
“Everything is about quality so people are safe and know it,” she explains.
“I had not taught group sessions before, and had to modify my coaching. Affordability was very important, the videos cost £5, so everyone as far as possible can benefit. The same thinking has guided my approach to accessibility whether that is developing programmes, for example for those in chairs who cannot access the floor or the shift to online.”
“We will remain by the side of Sarah’s business as it continues to pivot and expand,” declared Lloyds area business manager Jamie Whitingdon.
The banking group has committed to a £2 billion fund to support businesses struggling with the impact of Covid. The backing provides additional fee-free lending to smaller firms with turnovers up to £25 million and capital repayment holidays.
And if health guidelines for the NHS eventually include clinical Pilates for those having stoma surgery, “I aim to be ready for that,” says Russell.