The Happiness Bootcamp founder Aimee Browes tells unLTD’s Jill Theobald how exercise helped her tackle her anxiety – and her mission to ensure Sheffield is never ‘at ease’ with the city’s mental health problems
From a school girl struggling with anxiety to seeing your start-up business sharing screen space with Beyoncé on BBC Newsbeat.
Not a bad trajectory for an entrepreneur.
Oh, and Aimee Browes is also just 20 years old … and hasn’t graduated from university yet.
Impressive and inspiring stuff.
It’s also appropriate that when I meet her for a hot chocolate and a chat in The Cabin on The Moor she rocks up in a rainbow jumper, because she’s a bundle of energy and optimism. Plus ‘There is always a sunshine behind every cloud’ is one of the positive messages behind her business The Happiness Bootcamp which uses fitness to educate on mental wellbeing with classes, workshops and training.
The strapline is #BeFitMentally and Aimee talks the talk, walks the walk – and ‘pops’ the Pilates.
“Most of the time I am really happy, really positive,” Aimee says. “I do still have dark days. But now I can power through, knowing there will be better days.”
Hillsborough born and bred, Aimee started struggling with her mental health at school.
“I was never popular and hit puberty before everyone else. By time I was in Year 9 I was pretending to be ill because I couldn’t deal with the pressures of school. I was wearing big thick trousers and the rest of the girls were in miniskirts. I ended up on report and had teachers calling my house. I was having a hard time and in Year 10 my auntie, who was a big influence on me, died.”
But her age made it difficult to access effective services. Aimee’s GP referred her to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) “but I was 14 or 15 years old and sat in a room with trees and Winnie the Pooh painted on the wall! After a few sessions I pretended it was all fine and they signed me off.”
But Aimee was far from fine. By Year 11 she wasn’t eating properly, was over-exercising and her weight dropped to six stone, as she developed body dysmorphic disorder.
“I was on anti-depressants and beta blockers and going through a lot of hormone changes as a teenager. But when as a 16-year-old I went to (adult mental health services) IAPT I was in a room full of people aged between 40 and 60 – adults who were suffering because they had lost jobs, children, partners and I’m sat there like a child thinking ‘why am I here?’”
After dropping out of A Levels, Aimee ended up on a traineeship as a fitness instructor at a gym.
“I used to hate sport at school, but going on that traineeship probably saved my life – I had been writing letters because I didn’t think I was going to be around.
“I started to change my perspective on food and nutrition and decided to do a Level 3 BTEC in Sports Science. At college, people were there to get a degree, I was there to educate myself.”
And after educating herself, she wanted to spread the word about exercise and wellbeing to others.
“I set up a Facebook page and created posts about panic attacks and stress. When I organised my first event I was so nervous. I didn’t even have a laptop, just a flipchart. But all of a sudden, 100 people came through the door! We had to put a sign up saying ‘come back tomorrow for another session’. Everyone was amazing. I felt like we were starting a little community.
“I came up with the name Happiness Bootcamp because I wanted to add fitness with happiness. I don’t want people to think it’s about losing weight or gaining abs – it’s all about achievable goals.”
Along with securing her place to study psychology at Sheffield Hallam University and becoming a certified pop-Pilates instructor, the Bootcamp has seen Aimee travel all over the country to deliver fitness sessions, workshops and talks including BodyPower Expo at Birmingham NEC and Be:Fit London – and led to that shared screen space with a pop diva.
“It was on BBC Radio One Newsbeat’s Snapchat page – ‘coming up on today’s news ….’ – and there was a picture of me alongside a story about Beyoncé!”
While never dipping in her enthusiasm levels, Aimee’s nevertheless very keen to share the reality of starting up a business.
“I started as a sole trader but didn’t really know what I was doing. When you’re so young, there’s not much in way of guidance – (SHU business start-up adviser) Rob King was great and suggested contacting Social Enterprise Exchange (SEE) but the university could only help so much because we became a social enterprise not a limited company.
“I needed three directors to become a social enterprise so my partner Adam Chambers (also a personal trainer) and Laura Gray joined me, too, who was the first person who came to my classes!
“The day that certificate came through I was so excited! It was the biggest thing ever to me because this business, it’s my baby. Everything changed from there – we now run weekly classes at SHU, Sweat Gym, Westfield Health and St Joseph’s Primary School.
“I get weekends off now but when I first started it was difficult to get the balance between being young, studying at university and running a business. People underestimate how much work goes into being self-employed – there’s so much pressure, I felt guilty for taking Christmas off!
“It’s stressful but I love it and feel so grateful to be doing what I’m doing. This time last year I couldn’t write a business plan or file a tax return. Since then I’ve pitched to a room full of people at the SHU Enterprise Awards and was one of the youngest there, a lot of the others were third year or Masters students.
“We came second to Food Circle Supermarket and were proud to lose to them as they are great. The funding from the SHU Award and a SEE grant has helped us with branding and running training days at schools. All sorts of little gigs have started to come about. I said to my partner the other day ‘I’m doing alright.’ He was like ‘ALRIGHT?! You’re 20!’
“I’m the healthiest and happiest I’ve ever been. I know I’m not on my own, there’s a lot of people out there and I don’t have to be defined by mental health issues – I want to use that to help other people.
“I would love to get some more funding so I can create a space in Sheffield for people to come to, with sessions, workshops, all under one roof. Sheffield has a big problem with mental health, and it would be great to have a positive space, even just one room people can come to. That would be the dream. And Sheffield needs it.”