Little Fitness – An inclusive programme for all children and families living in emergency accommodation, or socially disadvantaged

Launched in 2021, Sinead Ryan saw the need for Little fitness after a chance encounter with a pair of brothers who were living in temporary housing and joined one of her fitness classes. She envisioned a programme that would bring primary-age children from homeless families together to learn about their bodies, health, and nutrition, and have fun with their peers.

Having graduated from The Social Entreprenuer Ireland’s Idea’s Academy, Sinead has now launched the programme and is working with children and their families to allow children to get fit and have fun, in addition to allowing their parents a little break from looking after their children.

I interviewed Sinead to find out more about this fantastic initative

  1. What was your journey to becoming an entrepreneur? 

My journey to becoming a Social Entrepreneur was unconventional; in a way that I didn’t realise the impact Little Fitness was and could have and also I didn’t understand what it meant to be a Social Enterprise, so there was loads to learn! never mind setting up and running a business and programmes 

  1. To someone who is not aware of it, what is Little Fitness? How did the story begin? 

The Little Fitness programme is inclusive of all children and families living in emergency accommodation, family hubs and where children may come up against barriers within their community. The programme teaches fitness classes in an educational way using different themes, skills and games each week

As part of this we encourage children to have social interaction amongst their peers, Allow the children to participate in a non-competitive programme, where they will experience new and challenging activities and build resilience and help their confidence grow. The story into the social enterprise space came from a chance encounter of two brothers who were attending one of my classes, they were noticeably  emotional, struggling to do small tasks such as jumping, skipping even one of the boys saying “I can’t skip, I can’t jump” This lead me to understand more about emergency accommodation and all the children living in family hubs. The service I envisioned would provide that break away for the parents from the children, knowing they were in a safe place, and make the children feel a sense of belonging as well as helping them rebuild their fitness. It would also encourage positive conversations around physical activity between the parents and child, as well as stretching, nutrition, and opening the children to a different form of engagement. I decided to do a pilot programme and engage with the families, the children and the social workers before the Covid-19 pandemic. And while the pandemic slowed my plans for a while, Little Fitness eventually kicked off last year, allowing me to run programmes and even summer camps last year.

  1. The company is a graduate of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, Ideas Academy. How did going through that programme help shape the company? 

 Little Fitness being accepted onto the SEI ideas Academy 2020 allowed shape Little Fitness and hone in on the benefits and impact little fitness can create. The Mentoring and support from SEI was really important to me as it gave me the confidence to keep going but also the belief that I can achieve goals. Receiving funding for the ideas the academy gave me for the validation & value for the programme. Little Fitness has recently been invited onto the SEI Action Lab 2023 in January and awarded €3,000. Starting 2023 with this support has been phenomenal and being selected to attend SEI Action Lab has done everything that Little Fitness has been doing and continues to do worthwhile with this support to continue moving forward and building into 2023.

  1. As a social enterprise how is Little Fitness funded? What tips would you have for attracting funding to a social enterprise?  

At the moment my main funding comes from earned revenue through running programmes.

Recent awards from SEI 3,000 and Dublin City Social Enterprise Awards 12,000

  1. How has the company grown since your launch? 

We currently have one full-time staff member and a part-time admin support. We are aiming for the end of the second quarter to have a part time facilitator for our programmes

  1. Little Fitness was launched during the pandemic. How did the pandemic affect the community you serve?Are there any positives you can take from this time?

The pandemic was a struggle for all, particularly families and children experiencing homelessness restrictions that were extremely difficult with further rules and regulations imposed on families in emergency accommodation. Unfortunately, Little Fitness was unable to attend services during the pandemic.

However positive from the restrictions was that it allowed us to connect with other organisations supporting families through homelessness. These connections allowed Little Fitness when the time was right and safe to do so attend services. To bring the Little Fitness programme to children who were not only experiencing homelessness but had gone through further restrictions of the pandemic. The need was even more necessary and Little Fitness was delighted to give the children a break away to be part of a programme to make them feel a sense of belonging.

  1. Since the subsequent reopening how has the company changed?

With the reopening came a greater need and necessity for Little Fitness and this is evident through demand for the programme. This is good, but also the quality of our programmes and delivery is key to the success and connections made with families and services.

  1. What have been some of the highlights since your launch?

Highlights would have to be meeting so many children, all with the want and eager to be part of something. This is huge for me as believing and seeing what Little Fitness can do is so important.

End of 2022 receiving the Dublin City Social Enterprise Award was amazing! and the support since winning this award has brought Little Fitness into 2023.

We recently launched the Little Fitness Independent Evaluation Report January 2023, to be able to showcase Little Fitness and have the data to back up only validates the programme. This truly was a pinch me moment, so proud to be able to showcase the report along side Dr. Sarah Sheridan and Dr.Mark Ward

  1. What organisations have you worked with since your launch? How have they helped the company grow? 

I have worked with numerous organisations Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, Social Impact Ireland, Innovate Communities, DCC and ICE who have all given me support and guidance on developing Little Fitness but also making me aware of Business and working in the Social Enterprise space.

Being a start-up and in the early stages can be very lonely however having the support from the above organisations has allowed me to grow personally in business but also professionally backing what Little Fitness is working towards. It’s nice not to feel lonely and to be able to connect with these organisations is truly awesome, I think the social enterprise space is a really amazing sector to be part of and I’m so happy to have the support of so many people. 

  1. Are there any other organisations in Ireland that you’re a big fan of?

There are so many Social Enterprises doing amazing things. I love Sophie from Eggheadz Donanbate and what they are doing for the mental health and well being of children within the community.

Rob from Rugby Cubz is doing amazing work with children who are Autistic, bringing rugby to all and making sure all children and families feel they can do something together.

Eileen from Hair Together is running a  programme where teenagers can train in hairdressing / barbering which allows them another outlet  in their day to day to bring a positive skill and social setting to connect with all involved.

Miriam from Connections Art Centre is doing amazing work from adults with disabilities bringing accessible programmes for all participants to enjoy and engage at their own pace.