Updated: Mar 14
Hear all about Ria's mission to make wellness accessible to all and what led her to start her own business...
Let's start with telling everyone about yourself Ria...
I am of Jamaican and American descent and was adopted at 6 weeks old. I was raised in London, in a multi ethnic family with a strong sense of equality, love and inclusion. As a child I was always drawn towards the performing arts. I love music, dance and theatre and studied all three things at school and then at university. Through dance and acting I developed a strong interest in the relationship between the body and our emotions. My father died unexpectedly when I was only 16 years old. It was devastating and formed a huge part of who I am today. The experience has given me a strong sense of living for the moment, not taking anything for granted and not sweating the small stuff.
I moved to Amsterdam for a year in my early 20’s and worked as a dancer and theatre maker and on returning to London, I became a ‘jobbing actor’, touring and working in theatres across the UK and Europe. My plan was to do that forever.
My son was born in 2004 and his father and I got married in 2005. Our one year old boy was the ring bearer at our wedding. Our daughter was born a year later. Having children shifted my perspective on what I wanted from my career. I found that I wanted to have more control and flexibility with my work/life balance. I decided to retrain as a shiatsu therapist, and after three years of study, I set up my own practice and things evolved from there. All the experience and skills that I had gained from working as a performer were easily transferable, in terms of communication, resilience, risk taking and creativity. I now run my own wellness company, delivering wellness services for businesses, individuals and events.
I love learning and always have my hand in some CPD course or another. I have also been studying the martial art, Wing Chun, for the last 9 years. I am a nature lover and strong believer in the therapeutic power of nature connection. I recently completed a Forest School Leader qualification and run programmes for children and young people. This year I am looking forward to integrating my nature connection work with all my other wellness offerings.
How long have you been in business and what was the catalyst for you to start your own business?
The summer that I turned 30, I was working with a physical theatre company and injured my shoulder. The wife of one of my fellow cast members had recently qualified as a shiatsu therapist. She offered to give me a treatment, which I accepted. It completely fixed my shoulder but not only that…
As she was leaving, she told me that I might have a strong emotional reaction, she suggested that I might feel angry. I shrugged the comment off as a bit ‘over the top’ after all, why would my shoulder release anger? But as soon as I closed the door, I immediately burst into floods of tears. I was so amazed by the depth of my reaction, I knew I wanted to learn more. Without knowing it, that was the original seed.
I studied shiatsu and traditional chinese medicine, then deep tissue massage and went on to set up my own practice providing both bodywork styles and a hybrid of the two. Long story short, that led me to managing wellness clinics and then on to curating wellness areas for music festivals and events. I was also freelancing as a facilitator delivering leadership and communications programmes for corporate clients and diversity programmes for public sector organisations including The Metropolitan Police.
In 2017, I wanted to find a way to bring multiple aspects of wellness all under one umbrella. I co-founded my company, Soul Stretch as a ‘one stop shop’ for wellness.
Who do you help and how do you help them?
Our remit is to make wellness accessible for all. So, the easy answer is that we help everyone. We are dedicated to challenging some of the stereotypes around what wellness is and who it’s actually for. It’s important to us that people who have never explored wellness before, feel welcome and included in our spaces. We help people of all ages, genders, backgrounds, economic status and abilities in many different ways. Wellness for me can mean anything from spending a workplace team day around a campfire to learning about sleep hygiene to online mindfulness to hip hop yoga to seated yoga to drinking Prosecco in a hot tub!
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced whilst owning your own business?
Our business began with us producing and curating wellness areas for Music Festivals. The majority of our trade was delivered through the summer months. Aside from the pandemic, the biggest challenge so far has been upscaling and diversifying our offering, so that our income streams are consistent across the whole year. The pandemic was of course challenging for us as a business. Everything we were doing was ‘close contact’ but it provided a great opportunity to find new ways of doing things. There was such a need for wellness during lockdown and in my opinion people have remained invested now that we have emerged. We created new offerings that we might not have arrived at otherwise, like ‘self massage’, online guided meditations and classes, desk and chair ergonomics for corporate clients who were looking for ways to support their teams working remotely. It was a real opportunity to think outside the box.
What’s your experience been like in terms of support from other women in business?
I have many female friends who are entrepreneurs or in business and/or wellness. We often meet and throw ideas around and share our experiences. I think it’s really important that, as women, we are supportive and celebratory of each other’s successes and achievements and there to provide advice and support when it’s needed. I still find that in some spaces women as well as men, have a certain level of unconscious bias and will initially assume that I must be an assistant, not the person in charge.
What would you like to see more off from the collective women in business this year?
More collaborations and partnerships. There is so much to be gained from sharing professional knowledge, contacts and opportunities. This makes us all stronger and more successful. I would also like to see more work done around diversity and inclusion. And lastly but probably most importantly, we all need to be talking and thinking about the environment and sustainably.
How could another business owner collaborate with you in 2022 + what are your top 3 topics for discussions?
Top topics for discussion are; mental health - particularly as we emerge from the pandemic. Nature connection - how it supports our mental and physical health and how we can support the wellbeing of our planet. Inclusion - exploring ways to challenge some of the wellness stereotypes.
I would love to collaborate with other business owners who are interested in creating partnerships and co-creating wellness content.
Where can readers go to find out more about you and your business?
We are currently in a growth phase and our new website will be up and running in the coming week - www.soulstretch.co.uk. In the meantime you can find more information at - www.soulstretchevents.com
Who inspires you and why?
I am inspired by so many people, so this is a tough question. Besides the obvious answers like; my mum, my grandma, my daughter and all my girl friends. I am currently really inspired by instagrammer @thickthighyoga, not only is she a super talented yogi but I love her body positive approach and her sense of fun and playfulness. Black Girl Hike is a really inspiring organisation which hosts a ‘safe space’ walking community challenging some of the barriers around inclusion in the outdoors. Re+cultivate is a new female run traditional chinese medicine company, making some beautiful looking products and providing great resources to support women’s health and menopause. My inspiration comes from so many places; sometimes it's a single comment or moment in a day. I’m inspired by honesty, integrity, determination, creativity and risk taking. I find these qualities in people of all ages and circumstances every day in many different guises.
And finally Ria, what is your favourite quote?
It’s a long one, I’m going for a track rather than a quote so you might be best just reaching for Spotify…
I choose this because it is bold and brave and expresses perfectly just how much we are part of and connected to the natural environment. And it’s a majestic FEEL GOOD vibe!
‘Birds flying high you know how I feel
Sun in the sky you know how I feel
Breeze driftin' on by you know how I feel
It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
And I'm feeling good
Fish in the sea you know how I feel
River running free you know how I feel
Blossom on the tree you know how I feel
Dragonfly out in the sun you know what I mean, don't you know
Butterflies all havin' fun you know what I mean
Sleep in peace when day is done
That's what I mean
And this old world is a new world
And a bold world
Stars when you shine you know how I feel
Scent of the pine you know how I feel
Oh freedom is mine
And I know how I feel
It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
And I’m feeling good’