Helen Martin, founder of ACM, at home with her rescue staffie, Russell

Making Massage Accessible in Sheffield

Sheffield Unchained contributor, Emma Wells, meets the founder of Affordable Community Massage, Helen Martin, to find out about her mission to make massage affordable and accessible to everyone in Sheffield.

Affordable Community Massage (ACM) is a socially minded enterprise set up out of a belief that to be effective, massage needs to be something that you can access as and when you need, rather than just as a treat.

ACM founder, Helen Martin, likens massage to servicing your car, in that it helps to keep the body functioning as it should and can prevent aches, pains and injuries as well as treating them. Helen explains more about her motivation for ACM:

I set it up originally so that people could get affordable access to deep tissue massage; most people think ‘I’d love a massage but I can’t afford it’

Having initially worked as a massage therapist in a beauty salon, Helen found that the therapists were overworked and often had to fit too many treatments into one day, which could be dangerous for both the client and the therapist. Also, as the majority of people came for a one-off treatment, there was little rapport between therapist and client.

Helen also discovered that the type of massage which is more accessible to people, often through deals or vouchers, tends to be in a beauty therapy centre which she says can be soft, tickly massage – relaxing but not always doing much. At the other end of spectrum, £65 would pay for a sports massage, which is too costly for most people to have on a regular basis and can be too extreme.

Realising that there was an opportunity to make massage both affordable and a regular treatment, Helen set up ACM in January this year in the belief that:

Unless you are an elite sports person, you probably just need a good pummelling!

Originally from Birmingham, Helen, aged 28, came to Sheffield to train as a social worker, a role she held for two and a half years. Whilst working, she undertook a year-long training course in therapeutic massage, with anatomy, physiology and pathology.

Helen explains that while alternative therapies are becoming more regulated, it is possible to train in a number of therapies in a short time. After completing her training, Helen decided to move into full-time massage therapy to enable to continue her work with people, but without the stress of social work.

Affordable Community Massage, photo courtesy of ACM

Affordable Community Massage, photo courtesy of ACM

 ‘It’s not an airy-fairy thing’

ACM now has several therapists delivering treatments, and their focus is on providing what they describe as ‘therapeutic, down-to-earth massage service’. Helen tells me that massage needs to respond to an individual’s posture and anatomy. She says it is not symmetrical, but is whatever the client and their muscles say.

Helen is keen to raise the profile of deep tissue massage, and to take the stigma out of it.  She says:

We are not trying to balance any energy fields, it’s not an airy-fairy thing. We just work with muscles, wherever the area of tension is, until you’re happy with it.

Helen has been influenced by the Scandinavian approach to massage, where it is very mainstream and is used as a preventative measure and an alternative to pain medication.

Helen working at an evening community clinic, photo courtesy of ACM

Helen working at an evening community clinic, photo courtesy of ACM

To ensure that treatments can be kept affordable, ACM operates purely in community venues and spaces, and through pop-up clinics.  The therapists use venues all over Sheffield that are accessible by public transport, including the Zest Healthy Living Centre in Upperthope, Harland Works off London Road, and Regather in Sharrow.

Helen explains that all they need is a spare room and some achy people to create a pop up clinic. Clinics can also be set up in people’s homes for groups of 4 or more, and ACM also deliver massages in workplaces.

Treatments in community venues and people’s homes last an hour, and are held in the evenings from five to eight daily and at weekends. The initial treatment costs £29, and subsequent massages are £26.  Members can also earn points towards free treatments by recommending ACM to others. The free treatment can be taken by the member, by someone they know, or can be donated back to community.

Massage for the homeless and vulnerable

Helen is also working with several charities and community organisations, and has recently started a year-long contract with the Pathways centre for homeless and vulnerable housed people in Chesterfield, where she provides massages on a weekly basis.  She tells me:

You’d be surprised by the amount of sciatica and shoulder problems that come with sleeping rough and the difference a 15 minute massage can make to someone.

Pathways have reported that the massage sessions are the most popular activity at the centre and they are always oversubscribed. Helen describes one client in particular, who felt such a huge benefit from regular 15 minute leg massages that he asked his GP about exercises that he could do, which meant that he felt well enough to get to a job interview, and is now thinking of giving up smoking.

The project at Pathways is the first of its kind and the outcomes are being measured and recorded. Helen says:

We are getting really high scores on mental health, physical pain and wellbeing.

She hopes this project will be a forerunner in making massage more mainstream and acceptable with a solid evidence base behind it.

Supporting vulnerable women

ACM is also providing a monthly service for Together Women, which is a charity helping women to rehabilitate from crime, and will soon start working with the Snowdrop project which supports women coming out of trafficking.  She says

Everybody needs a good massage, not just desk workers, and chronic pain is very debilitating no matter who you are. Everyone needs a little bit of relief, and massage can make a real difference

I ask Helen how she publicises her business, and she explains that she is working on raising awareness of ACM. She is currently on a course called Brand Booster, run by Faye Smith of Keep Your Fork, a marketing and training consultancy.

Helen tells me the course is really helping her with getting the brand more widely known and recognised. All communication is currently through ACM’s Facebook page, which is regularly updated with details of clinics, and can be used to book treatments. Helen also uses Twitter  and puts posters up around the city. She says:

Look for turquoise hands and you will find ACM.


Helen plans to take on more therapists in the near future, as soon as she has enough clinics and clients.  She says the business will help therapists too, as there are many amazing therapists who struggle to get a client base or to afford to go full time. Helen ends by telling me:

My hope for ACM is that there will be a place in the country everywhere that you can think ‘I’ll just nip down and get my massage’, like getting your hair cut or car serviced – it’ll be something normal.

It’s clear from talking to Helen that regular massage can have a hugely positive impact on people’s lives, and she seems set on achieving her vision.

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