After a turbulent and unprecedented year, Tara Johnson from Whitburn has been motivated to embark on one of her biggest challenges yet – to stand for the first time in over 20 years.

Tara is the founder and owner of social enterprise Tailored Leisure Company (TLC) and has pledged to stand from her wheelchair for 21 hours over 5 days from Monday 8th March to Friday 12th March, a sight that neither of her children have ever seen.

The driving force behind the challenge is to raise awareness of the lack of accessible leisure activities and short break facilities across the region. Through the various fundraising drives and funding applications the company aims to raise £1.5 million to purchase an identified property in the North East which will be modified into an accessible leisure complex.

Tara Johnson, Founder of Tailored Leisure Company said,

“The second lockdown started to take its toll on me like many and despite things being amazing with the growth of the business and the successful transition to virtual fitness sessions for our clients, I’m only human and began to realise I was frustrated. My children were finding things difficult, and we all needed a goal that would see me take on my biggest challenge but also help the fundraising project.

I wanted to get fitter, stronger and show my children anything is possible even with barriers. Earlier in the year I started a meal plan with Macro Based Diner and an intensive and tailored 8-week fitness programme with one of our trainers Coach Becks, with the aim to stand for the first time in 20 years

Training has been far from easy with sore legs, only managing six minutes in my standing frame during the first week of standing training to now managing one hour.”

TLC is the enterprise behind Sit to be Fit and secured funding earlier in the year to run a host of virtual fitness classes. They are committed to developing accessible opportunities to get fit, have fun and relax with as little stress as possible. Tara was inspired to launch the social enterprise due to her own experiences of living with cerebral palsy, as well as her professional experience in the health and social care sector.

Tara added,

 “The unprecedented Covid 19 situation has left many people both mentally and physically isolated. As we start to return to normality later, lack of access is still an issue for many and this situation has been escalated even more, the impact and need is greater than ever. The 21 hours represents a new year of hope and I’m asking the North East to make a pledge and stand with me to Stand for Access and help us raise the vital funds we need.”

As part of the fundraising campaign when people make a donation, they can name a butterfly which will be displayed at the new complex as a sign of life, independence and hope for the future.

To find out more and make a donation, supporters can visit: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/tailoredleisure

In the final hour of the challenge on Friday 12 March at 6pm, Tara will be joined by family, service users, key partners like Headway Wearside, Aukestra, Wor Vera and even an appearance by Gary Barlow (well a cardboard cut-out to motivate the super Take That fan!) via zoom. The community are invited to show their support in the final hour by putting a butterfly picture in their window.

Aukestra, the Gateshead based band for musicians with learning difficulties including autism have been instrumental in supporting the song writing and recording of a new song ‘Butterfly a Place to Call My Own’ which has been developed from a poem written by a TLC service user. The poem and now song symbolises the barriers the client faces and the need to be free in the world. The song will poignantly be played via the zoom session as supporters stand beside Tara as she reaches the 21-hour target set.

Jak Dixon, Founder of Aukestra said,

“We were delighted to support Tara and the team with the development of the song, it strikes a chord with our ethos here at Aukestra. When I set up Aukestra at the time there weren’t many specialist music projects available that tapped into the abilities and interests of our team members.

 Through our diverse projects we are able to broaden horizons and we encourage the team to challenge themselves to learn new skills and experience new opportunities. The song is all about transformation, and this is something that resonates with our members as well as Tara’s clients.”

Alongside a host of messages of support, South Tyneside local Deborah Taylor-Smith aka Wor Vera from Hebburn, who entertained hundreds of care home residents over lockdown has got behind the campaign and will be joining the zoom call for a spot of singing to keep the motivation going for the final stretch.

Deborah Taylor-Smith (Wor Vera) said,

“After losing my job singing I decided to sing free to lift the spirits. Music is important and I will be singing to help out with raising vital funds for the butterfly project that Tara introduced me to. It is an amazing cause.”

TLC are passionate about overcoming the barriers and social exclusion faced by disabled people, specifically in terms of access to leisure activities. The innovative, one-of-a- kind short break holiday complex, the ‘Butterfly of the North’ will be entirely accessible for people with disabilities. Designed by disabled people, for disabled people, the holiday complex will unlock barriers to short breaks and leisure services for families across the North East.

Kim Hunter, Business and Community Development Officer at Headway Wearside said:

“It is essential for acquired brain injury survivors to connect and have time out with family, friends and carers in an accessible leisure and holiday complex.  Just like everyone else holidays and weekends away are fun, exciting and challenging but sometimes a little more support and thought is needed.

 To have a complex in the local area such as ‘Butterfly of the North East’ that members of Headway Wearside could access will be fantastic. Having access to everything on site such as accessible chalets, swimming pool, and social areas and a separate space for carers is long overdue.”

Tara added,

“I would like to say a huge thank you to my team, my friends, family and Coach Becks for believing and showing me that anything is possible if you build one brick at a time! I once asked Mark (Coach Becks) why he became involved with TLC and he said ‘It’s simple, everyone deserves access to fitness and the things that make them feel good, things should be accessible for all.’