Motion Exercise: How a Sheffield partnership is getting the elderly exercising and making it fun

Talking about people exercising is easy. Getting them to do it is another thing. So here is the other thing which is already making the talk do a Sheffield walk.

Thursday, 14th April 2022, 11:51 am

Zeezy Qureshi is co-founder of Motion Exercise, a social enterprise which brings interactive, inclusive and fun exercise programmes to older adults.

Rob Womack is health, wellbeing and partnerships manager at Sheffield City Trust, which continues to manage more than 13 fitness and leisure venues across the city. It will step back from that role over the next few years, but SCT says it remains passionate about changing lives and works with local communities engaging them to become more active.

Which is why Zeezy and Rob have formed a partnership to deliver inclusive exercise programmes across Sheffield. These set out to increase the number of exercise sessions delivered to older adults and to care homes, to help tackle social isolation and increasing physical activity among older adults.

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Zeezy Qureshi (CEO Motion Fitness) at Ponds Forge. Picture Scott Merrylees

Zeezy says: “Older adults have various barriers to engaging in physical activity and social interaction. There aren’t the services out there that cater towards the older population with specific needs - those who can’t access facilities like Ponds Forge.

“That’s why we started running exercise sessions because we recognise there’s a gap. People benefit from physical exercise - it is social interaction, happy lives are healthy lives.”

He set up Motion Exercise with Ella Hopkin in 2017. They piloted it in Sheffield after meeting at university. Zeezy is in his final year as a philosophy student, Ella studied applied social sciences and graduated last summer.

They spent two years doing small scale sessions, going to care homes with volunteers to deliver exercise programmes. For four years, Motion delivered recurring sessions to over 400 people in care homes and lunch clubs. When the pandemic struck, they focussed on two homes, Twelvetrees in Nether Edge and the Hallamshire Care Home in Broomhall.

Rob Womack (Manager at Sheffield City Trust) at Ponds Forge. Picture Scott Merrylees

“We tried a virtual delivery using Facebook for live streams,” says Zeezy. “Lockdown pushed us to explore new avenues and innovate. We couldn’t just give up because we recognised there was more of a need for it now more than ever and that’s what drove us to innovate.”

Rob got SCT involved after seeing a news story on Motion’s work in care homes. “We had worked in the past with Sheffcare on in-person delivery,” he says.

“Motion felt new and interesting so I got in touch and we had a chat about who they were and what they were trying to do so we could understand the scale of it and compare it to what we wanted to do.

“We can’t do everything for everyone, we don’t have the resources or skills, so we have to work in partnerships to look at opportunities.

Rob Womack (Manager at Sheffield City Trust) at Ponds Forge. Picture Scott Merrylees

“Some people can’t get to places like Ponds Forge and there has to be recognition of that. There are things we like and don’t like as people, things we do and will never do. For some in care homes, they are not going to be able to come here so gym membership isn’t for them.

“But there are some people who may feel isolated who can go on a journey where they find that a place like this is for them. They have to be interested in an activity.”

It is a challenging time for Rob after the City Trust announced it would be pulling out of managing venues like Ponds Forge and Hillsborough Leisure Centre. “We’ve been around for 30 years and are part of the Sheffield establishment.

“There is no sport and leisure organisation with a better network and understanding of the barriers into exercise. We need to get past those and can do that in partnership. Motion brings something to the table we might otherwise not have seen.

The Motion Exercise team.

“We couldn’t support them forever regardless of circumstances but this isn’t necessarily about the Trust stepping back, more about understanding the potential to do something special and how to support them while we can because if we don’t, who will?”

Zeezy says: “SCT and Rob have been really supportive and we see the partnership as an opportunity to incorporate the skills and knowledge that we don’t have. We are led by young people and SCT is able to impart valuable experience so we can improve.

“We want to sustain ourselves but it won’t happen from day one so SCT can support us and help us deliver more programmes.”

Motion is now working with five care homes, which means 87 residents a week have joined in sessions since October 2020.

In two years time, the ambition is to have 200 care homes across South Yorkshire involved. It could mean more than 2,000 older adults taking part in exercise.

Rob thinks they can do it. “One of the really exciting is to grow to scale because of the delivery model.

Zeezy Qureshi (CEO Motion Fitness) and Rob Womack (Manager at Sheffield City Trust) at Ponds Forge. Picture Scott Merrylees

“A typical model has been face to face activity, where you need somebody there. The ability to do it online and stream it to multiple homes at the same time is not something which has been done before but feels like a realistic target.”

Motion uses a buddy system which pairs a Motion Motivator - an instructor - with a care home.

Each session is delivered by the same person to build rapport between Motioners - participants - and the Motivator. There are currently eight of these people and the ambition is to get more.

Zeezy says: “It’s important residents can develop a connection with the people delivering the sessions. They become friends and that’s something we know residents can look forward to. We’ve had fantastic feedback.”

Rob adds: “When you see it live, see the relationships building and people engaging with something which is fun, it’s great. I’ve seen older people in their chairs, waving pom poms, with a smile on their face and enjoying themselves.

Care homes have activity co-ordinators and they get involved in the sessions so we hope to develop their skills. From the city’s point of view, that is a big win because those activities can happen every day.”

Zeezy says: “Service have lacked the capacity to deliver to staff like that but there is a desire to learn and deliver more so it can be more than just one session a week.”

Rob adds: “Care homes are passionate what they do and it is about how we can pass on the skills to help them do that.”

In a City of Sport, it feels like this should be happening. Rob says: “That gives us a legacy but it is more about the passion of people when it comes to sport. Think about our teams - Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, the Sharks, Eagles and Steelers.

“We’ve almost no right to have that but the massive passion for them leads us into how to help people share it.

“We can support health and well being but it also about a standard of life and everyone enjoying themselves, coming together and being together. That’s what it means.”

So what is SCT’s legacy? Rob says the partnership with Motion is part of it. “We are working with the council and talking about the work we are doing in the community to support people who need it the most. How we can deliver programmes which are important, programmes like this.”

For more information about Motion visit

Rob Womack (Manager at Sheffield City Trust) at Ponds Forge. Picture Scott Merrylees
Care home residents join in a Motion Exercise session.
Care home residents join in a Motion Exercise session.
Zeezy Qureshi (CEO Motion Fitness) at Ponds Forge. Picture Scott Merrylees
Zeezy Qureshi (CEO Motion Fitness) at Ponds Forge. Picture Scott Merrylees
Zeezy Qureshi (CEO Motion Fitness) and Rob Womack (Manager at Sheffield City Trust) at Ponds Forge. Picture Scott Merrylees