An interview with Helen Tudge, a Mirthy Fitness host who leads four Pilates-based classes a week on the events programme.

Q) When did you first become a Pilates instructor, and why?

I became a Pilates instructor in 2010. I used to work as a chartered physiotherapist, working in the NHS in orthopaedics predominantly, and my specialty was in back pain. I worked in a back pain clinic and Pilates style exercises - teaching people about their posture and how to engage their supportive posture muscles (the core) - was part of my job. The instructor training seemed an efficient way of combining the two.

Q) How did the pandemic affect your work? And what were your biggest challenges and concerns when the pandemic first hit?

At that point, I was self-employed; I’ve got a little treatment room where I was seeing some physio patients, but at least 70% of my work and income was from the Pilates classes in village halls around Warwick. So when the pandemic hit, I went into complete panic mode. Thankfully, my 2 daughters said, ‘Quick, mum, get your classes on Zoom’. They helped me get it set up, and so initially I was like ‘thank God for that! - I can carry on working’.

I did find it really hard in the beginning. I thought I’m not delivering the proper service I used to be, and my customers were all saying ‘hope this doesn't last long, can't wait to get back to the Hall’. But there was a gradual transition of people getting more used to it, and enjoying the fact that they were just at home with their own background music on, in their own comfortable space.

Q) When did you first become a Mirthy instructor and how did you find teaching at Mirthy?

It was last April that Alex contacted me - we did a couple of taster sessions and then it became a weekly regular. As a physio, I was quite cautious that I'm advocating exercises to a whole group of people without knowing their medical history. But this concern is massively outweighed by the fact that a lot of people who come to the Mirthy classes had never done Pilates before, had probably done very little exercise, and they’re now getting a lot of benefit from it. Moving online, I was aware of all the things I’d lost; yes, I could keep my work going, but I’d lost my regular contact, I'd lost the feeling that I was a proper physio. Mirthy was the first thing that actually made me feel I’d gained something by working online because I had a whole new audience of hundreds of people all over the world, I had suddenly become international. Yes, some people have done Pilates before and then they've found me, but an awful lot of people are brand new to it. They were like ‘Oh, I tried this and I never realised I could do that’, so that's been lovely, the fact that we get such positive feedback. It's different, but it works.

Q) What would you say you love the most about teaching at Mirthy?

I don't think there's ever a class that goes by that somebody doesn't make me smile, either with their cheery hellos or little comments in the chat. Virtually every class I feel I've had some positive feedback, not necessarily just positive feedback for me but hearing them say hello to each other. Every class I feel there's some sort of positive engagement, either with me or with each other.

Q) What has surprised you the most about teaching at Mirthy?

How rapidly the numbers attending has increased - it doesn't seem that long ago that I was asking how many had signed up and it was 12 or 15, and now it's 275! And also, how comfortable it feels to know that there's a whole audience out there that I haven't assessed. I feel we’re in the age now where people do so much online, we’re aware we have to take some personal responsibility for what we listen to and follow. I feel that it is reasonable to give sensible basic physio advice about joint care, and the feedback in Facebook or the chat with people shows me how much they get from that. It's sad that people get into elderly years and some things have just never been advised, like exercises strengthening leg muscles to look after the knees. It seems that a lot of people have got the confidence to come to my class because I am a chartered physio, and they think ‘she must be safe then, she must know what she's doing’. It's a two-way thing; they have confidence in me and I'm confident that they're going to listen to my instructions and follow them carefully.

Q) How has Mirthy and being a Mirthy host affected your lifestyle and job plans?

It will be one of the factors leading to my complete change in location and lifestyle. Before the pandemic, I always thought I’d be tied to the Warwickshire area because I'd spent years setting up classes here. That was before my daughter moved to Devon and had my grandson, and I'm now moving down so that I can look after him a couple of days a week. However, I seriously don't think I would have had the confidence to do that but for the fact that Mirthy's a regular income for me now. That's made me think ‘yeah, I'll make the move, I will go to Devon and hopefully Mirthy, touch wood, will continue ticking along’ and then I don't feel I’ve got to make lots of new work down there. I can have my Mirthy continuing, and then I could try and open up a new class in a new venue in order to meet people now that we're coming out the other side of the pandemic. But I don't really know how to recruit online, so Mirthy is essential.

Q) Anything else?

I'm just very very impressed with how quickly you seem to have grown - your numbers are really ballooning. And it's been nice to see how you've started off with Pilates for fitness, but now you've got all sorts of more energetic things - the jazz and the ballet and the zumba etc. So it does sort of make me feel that it's challenging people to have a go at things in their homes that they probably wouldn't have booked before the pandemic. With the opportunity to have a little cheeky go at home behind closed doors, people have impressed themselves and that's really nice.