Trying out Restore & Reform at Fair Oak Farm
PUBLISHED: 14:48 07 May 2019 | UPDATED: 11:04 09 May 2019
Award-winning Fair Oak Farm has been adding to its retreat programme with a focus on medical benefits. Simone Hellyer goes to Mayfield to try out reformer pilates with Restore & Reform
With its picture perfect countryside setting just outside Mayfield in East Sussex, Fair Oak Farm is an ideal spot for people wanting to get away from it all and focus on themselves.
This is one of the main reasons why rehabilitation and pilates retreat provider Restore & Reform have chosen it as the home of its first UK-based break.
Restore & Reform run rehabilitation breaks for people suffering from back pain, muscoskeletal pain, surgery, pregnancy or just general aches and pains from too much time spent hunched over a laptop. The company's previous breaks have all taken place in the sunnier climes of Portugal, but this year Restore & Reform will be branching out to Burgundy in France and Sussex-based Fair Oak Farm.
It was a sore neck and shoulders from the aforementioned bad laptop posture as well as previous abdominal surgery that brought me along to Restore & Reform's first retreat at Fair Oak Farm. I was picked up from nearby Stonegate station by Fair Oak's owner Ian Ledger who said that he is in the process of building relationships with new partners to organise retreats at the farm.
"They each have their own specialisms but whether it's mind or body, we are selecting those that have scientific, medical or academic backing, who do amazing things to help change or even save lives and, of course, who are decent, good people who I will enjoy working with for years to come," he explains.
Upon arrival I was greeted by Mountjoy, the leader of the farm's resident flock of peacocks, before I was shown to my room in the main farmhouse. Within the 12-acre farm there are several different types of accommodation including the Grade II Listed farmhouse, a range of converted farm buildings and barns, eco-lodge tree houses and shepherd's huts. My room was tastefully decorated in a country cottage style, complete with rustic furniture that complemented the creaky, quirky building.
After settling in to my room I was whisked away by Michelle Lewis, Restore & Reform's co-founder and consultant physiotherapist, for a postural and biomechanical assessment that identified all of my niggles, aches and pains - it turned out that I had more than I'd initially owned to. Michelle graduated as a physiotherapist from Kings College London, and has now been practising for 15 years. She founded Restore & Reform with former patient Lucy Nifontova in 2017 after realising that there was a gap in the market for dedicated recovery time with injury specialists.
"The intensive rehab model exists for service personnel and professional athletes and it's more common in Europe for people to go off and spend a few weeks convalescing, but it's just not something that exists in the UK," Michelle explains.
The two first came up with the idea for Restore & Reform after Lucy, who has had musculoskeletal issues all of her life and was suffering with pain caused by lumbar disc degeneration, wanted to take some time out to hit the reset button but could not find a retreat that suited her needs. So Lucy travelled to the sunshine and participated in a rehabilitation programme devised and managed remotely by Michelle.
Lucy says: "By the end of the week I could touch my knees, was doing two hours of pilates exercises and was able to swim for an hour each day. When I came in for my three month check-up my consultant said I was months further on with my recovery than he thought I would be."
During my stay I also got to hear from a couple of former patients who had been on one of Restore & Reform's retreats in Portugal. One had managed to significantly reduce the amount of pain she was suffering after a botched back operation, while the other had managed to reverse a bulging disc without the need for surgery.
Lucy is now a certified reformer pilates instructor and introduced me to the benefits of the pilates reformer machine, which is used to add resistance to pilates exercises via the use of ropes and springs. Despite its intimidating appearance it was surprisingly easy to use and I could really feel the benefit of giving my muscles a good stretch. Afterwards I headed to a cosy barn for a soft tissue massage with Michelle that helped unknot any remaining niggles. She even convinced me to have my scar massaged, something I was nervous about and admittedly did hurt, but has helped me to face up to doing it myself at home.
After all of that I was both ravenously hungry and enormously tired, so I tucked into a delicious dinner prepared in the farmhouse kitchen and retired to the comfort of my room where a great night's sleep lay in wait.
Morning was heralded by the unusual sound of peacocks calling to one another and the smell of breakfast. Next up was a restorative pilates class led by Michelle, which worked muscles I never knew I had, and then a therapist-led stretch class. After lunch and some time to enjoy the surroundings I took part in a release class which reinforced everything I had learned and taught me some exercises to do at home. And, without wishing to sound like teacher's pet, I have indeed managed to do my homework by incorporating the stretches into my daily routine.
Restore & Reform prices at Fair Oak Farm start at £625 for a three-day, three-night programme and £1,230 for a six day, seven-night programme; www.fairoakfarm.co.uk/wellness-retreat-venue.
- 10 of the best spas in Sussex - At this time of year it is all to easy to slip into bad habits and elasticated waistbands. So the idea of rebooting one's system at one of Sussex's spa and detox retreats has appeal