A dancer has turned her back on a potential stage career to head up a growing social enterprise aimed at helping deprived areas of her native North East.
Bethany Ainsley could have headed to London’s West End after completing her Newcastle College dance degree with first class honours, but instead chose the dusty halls of social clubs, schools and churches in some of the North East’s most deprived areas to ply her trade.
Hartlepool-born Miss Ainsley, who has starred in a Bollywood movie and danced in an Iceland TV ad, is the creator of Nouveau Dance & Fitness, based in Peterlee.
Covering County Durham and Teesside, the five-year-old business brings fitness and dancing classes to schools, local communities and the public and third sectors.
Currently employing 12 staff and working with around 1,200 people across 65 venues every week, Nouveau Dance & Fitness is now on course to double in size by 2016 and expand outside the region into a second base.
Talks with potential investors are ongoing and a new operation in either Scotland or the North West is expected to be established by autumn.
“I could either have moved to London to become a professional dancer or stayed in the North East to do something else I was passionate about,” said 28-year-old Miss Ainsley.
“After dipping my toe in, I realised that there was a huge need for local dance and fitness in County Durham. If young people wanted to dance back then, they had to pay a lot of money for it and travel a long way usually.”
Nouveau also delivers a number of key health-boosting programmes including Move4Life, a Durham County Council Public Health and County Durham Sport initiative, which has helped more than 18,000 people at risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes through its support.
Miss Ainsley is also engaged in trying to change attitudes on health and fitness in the North East – a region which in 2012/13 had triple the national average of obesity-related hospital admissions at 73 per 100,000.
She said: “I personally feel everybody in the country should know that physical activity is just as important as getting your five-a-day, going to the dentist and being able to see a GP when you want to.
“Everybody should be able to do it. But not everybody is able to, so we are breaking down the barriers to help people access physical activity for a healthy, balanced life. It’s also about feeling better about yourself by getting moving.”
Since its inception in 2010, the organisation has been handed around £450,000 in support from the Big Lottery Fund, including a £257,000 boost it received at the end of 2014 to continue its work.
A £21,000 grant from the Department of Health’s Social Investment Fund has also bolstered its books.
Accolades have also been forthcoming too. Early last year Miss Ainsley’s company was one of 20 across the UK to win a £15,000 cash prize from the Lloyds Banking Group Entrepreneurs Programme.
She was also recognised as one of the country’s 50 brightest young entrepreneurs with a responsible business venture when she won a Future 50 Award.
Looking forward, Bethany is focused on ambitious growth plans which will take her into new territories across the UK.
She added: “We’ve really grown where the demand is greatest so far and I expect that to continue.”