Interview with Laura Wills, founder of the Club Morgan Programme
Find out how Laura Wills founded the Club Morgan Programme to introduce yoga into schools around the UK – and why she’s determined to get Richard Branson’s support via Virgin VOOM!
What’s your career background?
I initially trained as an actress. This was a dream come true for me, having got pregnant at 19 (my amazing mum helped looked after the baby while I went to college). It was three years of hard work, but throughout my twenties I enjoyed a bit of touring theatre and a few adverts here and there.
But I was always drawn to running my own project or business and set up my first theatre company called ‘Casting Light’ a successful theatre company running powerful plays and workshops that raised awareness of social issues that effect children and young people.
Although I loved theatre and acting I wanted to do something that made a difference and this company combined my two passions.
I went on to have two more children (yes, I find it very odd and scary that I have a 21 year old at 40!) and went to yoga to help with stress levels. Here I met Sue Woodd, a leading trainer in Seasonal Yoga and Tai-chi and she and I developed the Club Morgan Programme together.
How did your career change after having children?
I think because I had Izzey so young I had always been used to juggling. I never saw having children as a reason to stop working. I love that I can hopefully be a good role model for them, and Izzey comes to yoga with me now which is great.
There are times when it is tough. Running your own business means it’s hard to switch off, but the girls always remind me if I am on the computer too much!
Where did the idea for your business come from?
When I met Sue Woodd, she had been developing Seasonal Yoga for years. Seasonal Yoga is influenced by the Chinese health system of observing nature and living in tune with the cycles. It’s a fascinating system and so simple!
We are very disconnected in modern society from these cycles so people and children need this now more than ever. Basically in Seasonal Yoga you adapt your practice to the energy of the year, Winter is much more still and mindful, Summer is expansive and expressive.
The Chinese also believed that our organs are on a cycle and we do certain postures at certain times of the day/year to stimulate the meridians of these organs.
Sue wanted to devise a programme to combat the high levels of obesity, stress and anxiety amongst our children, so she asked me if I would help. I knew straight away I was meant to be involved.
How did you move from idea to actual business?
We piloted the idea in my daughter’s school, and at that point we were joined by Jan Earney, an ex-head teacher. I began to write our unique campfire stories, combining story telling, drama and yoga and Jan helped us turn it into what is essential now a holistic curriculum for children 3-11 years.
The programme evolved and including a specially designed form of exercise called Yo-chi (Yoga and Tai-chi) drama and role play for emotional awareness, learning about our organs through fun animated characters, nutrition and relaxation/breath work.
That’s when we realised we had a programme that others could teach and so we began to license across the country.
What’s your USP?
The Club Morgan programme is very unique and very much needed. There are a number of children’s yoga franchises but the difference with the Club Morgan Programme is that it is truly holistic. Physical, emotional and mental health are all connected.
Who’s your target audience?
Schools, nurseries, parents of young children and family centres.
How do you spread the word about what you do?
We were very lucky. Because Sue is so renowned in the wider yoga community, we were invited to be sponsors of the children’s area at the OM YOGA show and it all went from there.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing though! We have had to work extremely hard to recruit and schools find it very hard to make time for anything extra, they are under so much pressure.
What’s been your most successful PR strategy?
Word of mouth and passion, without a doubt! I talk to everyone about Club Morgan.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
The finances and being able to pay ourselves and pay our rent. We had no real business plan at the beginning and no cash flow forecasts etc. BIG mistake!
And your proudest moment so far?
The response we have had to our pending pitch to Richard Branson. We have had nearly 700 votes so far from supporters who want to see our curriculum in schools. Messages of support have been pouring in, and we have had countless testimonials form parents and kids about how the programme is changing their lives.
It is a very tough competition though, we need to stay in the top 80 out of thousands. Presently we are 17th but we desperately need more votes to stay in the running. (You can vote here if you wish!)
Why is work so important to you?
It’s not so much that I feel a need to be working all the time, it’s just I have found something I can work around my family and that I feel so passionate about.
I suffered for years from crippling anxiety as a child and as a young adult. I was lucky enough to have a mum who at the time I thought was a hippy and she sent me to yoga! Yoga has helped me to realise that we have these special and simple tools within us.
I get so upset when I hear that my daughters friend has gone to the Doctors with depression and isn’t asked any questions just given pills. This is very wrong to me, children should be learning about their bodies, their emotions and should have the tools to manage their, mental health before anything else.
We are now adapting the programme for teens, the elderly, working professionals and people with special needs, our plan later in the year is to umbrella all our programmes under the company name Yo-chi Unlimited – we love this name, everyone can do yoga, any age any ability.
Who inspires you?
My husband, my mum, my sister, my children, the people in our team, the children I work with, teachers in schools, everyone really. Being a human is a miracle. I learn something from most people I meet.
How do you balance your business with your family?
At the moment we are preparing our pitch to Richard Branson’s Voom2016, so very badly to be honest. However, I am going to Australia for nine days on Saturday with my eldest daughter to visit her very elderly grandmother, we may not get a chance to see her again. So I guess it is prioritising.
What are your three top pieces of advice for ambitious business mums?
- Write a three-year business plan.
- Find a business mentor. There are many people out there that want to help and have oodles of expertise. You may do it for someone else one day.
- Don’t give up on your passion! You will go through very hard times and many hurdles, but just keep breathing through it and trust!