If you live in Shaftesbury, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Charlene Higgins’ name on the signs and posters she’s put up to promote her weight loss franchise. But, as ThisIsAlfred.com discovered, Charlene is proactive in her promotion because she believes that Slimming World saved her life.
Keri Jones attended one of her meetings.
As I entered the Royal Chase Hotel’s function room, Charlene was wrapping up one of her first Slimming World sessions of 2019. She smiled to acknowledge me as she asked the last person in a line of new recruits about her target weight. Charlene offered words of encouragement and the room quickly emptied.
As you might expect, the first Slimming World meeting of the year is busy. “January is always an incentive for people to come and start their resolutions and begin the New Year the way they want to,” Charlene told me.
Charlene has operated Shaftesbury’s Slimming World franchise for five years. When she first became involved, she went to the company’s Derbyshire HQ where it was suggested that she should actively market her meetings. Charlene clearly took that message to heart.
“We are advised that if we don’t promote it, then we won’t see people coming in. We’re self-employed, so there is that element to it. But it’s more than that for me. It’s more being out in the community, touching the hearts of people and letting them know that we’re here and we understand the hardships of wanting to lose weight,” said Charlene.
And that’s why Charlene’s name is plastered all over town. She spends a great deal of time on her promotions – posters, signs and leaflets. “I could not count it up in hours, I really couldn’t. It does feel like it’s a lot. I try and get out and about in the community and just let people know we’re here,” she said.
Charlene has even persuaded the Bell Street car park baguette shop to place a Slimming World advertisement outside. “Helen, who owns the baguette bar, does come to our Slimming World group. You can eat any kind of food. That’s the beauty of it because nothing is banned. She caters for people there as well. If they mention that they come here, she supports them.”
With so many groups, clubs and event organisers posting their information around town, I was keen to know which of Charlene’s poster sites was most effective. “Probably the baguette bar at the moment. And Tesco. They have got my poster up all year round. They’re very good, as is the Tourist Information Centre,” said Charlene.
And as well as the fixed signs, Charlene is a walking advert. “I always go around with a fleece, or a T shirt on if it’s in the summer, which is all branded with the logo.”
Charlene obviously isn’t afraid of hard work and she’s happy to pound the pavements, putting up posters and distributing fliers. “It’s great exercise of course. I was an Avon lady once upon a time, but that was much harder than doing what I do here,” she smiled.
But Charlene is driven by something much stronger than just her work ethic. “This is my life. I do have time for my husband and my two kids, of course, but this is my job. This is my passion and these people rely on me.”
Charlene believes that if she had not discovered Slimming World, she would not be alive today and her children would be without a mother. “It saved my life. It really did,” Charlene revealed. “I was on the verge of being 28 stone. I had a little boy who I was told I wouldn’t have. The GP told me I couldn’t have kids. He was my miracle Christmas day baby, actually. I got very ill after I had him, from something else. The GP said, quite bluntly, if I didn’t lose weight I would die. So I found a Slimming World group and I lost eight stone in a year.”
You might expect a tearful reaction to such a sobering prognosis. Not from Charlene. She was furious! “At first I was really, really angry. I thought, ‘How dare you say that about me! I have this gorgeous little boy and they’re telling me he’s not going to have his mum when he’s ten years old. But I knew it was true. I knew deep down that I had to do something. So it made me more determined,” said Charlene.
Thankfully, most people who decide to lose weight are not reacting to such bad news. But Charlene says often people are working towards an event or special date. “It takes something to hit,” said Charlene. “Whether it’s as harsh as what I had or it’s an upcoming wedding or birthday. It could be anything that just jolts somebody.” Charlene beams with pride when she tells me that her son, Jaxon, is now six years of age and that he also has a three-year-old brother.
Charlene says that Slimming World members often fundraise for causes that are close to their hearts. “We raised over £3 million for Cancer Research last year by recycling clothes that members have slimmed out of. I’ve got a pot for the air ambulance here, too,” said Charlene, as she pointed to a table laden with leaflets and merchandise.
Shaftesbury members have raised a lot of money. “Hundreds probably from this group alone, with the clothes and the ‘Walk all over Cancer’ fundraiser,” said Charlene. “It is probably just short of £1,000. We have pictures of us all outside, with the bags of clothes that we donated to Cancer Research.”
As the group appears to be quite social, I wondered whether that creates a problem. Will members find it hard to leave when they reach their ideal weight? “When they hit target there’s no membership fee,” said Charlene. “The group is open for them and they can be part of the group and help inspire the other members. Our target members are so important. Without them, we’ve got no proof really.”
Charlene’s Shaftesbury Slimming World group meets on Fridays at 9.30am and 11.30am at The Royal Chase Hotel.