Meet your new trainer: Hard Yard employs ex-offenders

“I studied law, but I knew early on I didn’t [want to be] a solicitor or a barrister,” says London-based entrepreneur Frankie Bennett. “I was much more interested in what happened to people after they leave the criminal justice system.”

They were often coming out of prison with few skills, making it nearly impossible to find a job. But many of them had an area of expertise that made them extremely valuable in the workforce: fitness.

“There’s a lot of talent coming out of prisons, and there’s a will to work,” Bennett says. “There’s also a booming fitness industry. I thought: How do we bring those together?” Her solution was The Hard Yard, an exercise program that employs ex-offenders as trainers. Weights or other equipment aren’t necessary, so they can be done anywhere. On a recent weekend, people were gathered on a rooftop in Shoreditch for a tough workout. There are 10 other workouts each week across London.

In January, Bennett met Beth Thayne, who would become her cofounder. Thayne’s background in startups proved to be just what the company needed. “The concept really resonated with me,” Thayne says. “Anytime I’ve had difficulty or stress in my life, I’ve used exercise to get through it. The Hard Yard was a good fit because these were people who approached exercise the way I do.”

Their company got a huge boost this month when they won $18,000 at the London Creator Awards, sponsored by WeWork. “With WeWork’s support, we can expand our team,” Bennett says. “We desperately want to take on more trainers. It can take our program to the next level.”

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