The Breathing Space, a new wellness centre for women in Dorchester, is the product of years of planning for founder Sammie McFarland. She tells Laura Hanton what it was like to see her dreams become a reality.


Sammie McFarland doesn't look like someone who has just opened a brand new business, complete with 39 members of staff and a footfall of 400 clients in the first month alone. Despite nursing a chest infection, calmness radiates off her, perhaps helped by the enveloping smells of aromatherapy oils and burning candles.

"For a long time I've wanted to create a space which brings everyone together," Sammie, 43, says.

"I knew what I wanted to do but I couldn't imagine the steps I needed to take to get there. Even now, there are days when I think, can I really do this? But when you believe in something, you have to be brave enough to make it happen."

Specialising in women's health, The Breathing Space in Brewery Square offers a huge range of classes and treatments, from the more traditional yoga and pilates to aerial hoop, Swedish massage and hypnotherapy. The centre also provides specialist care for pregnant and postnatal women, including a workshop in relaxation and pain management for birth.

Originally from Exmoor, Sammie previously worked as a maternity nurse and breastfeeding consultant in London before moving to Dorchester 10 years ago. She is a qualified sports massage therapist and holistic core restore coach. Having been unwell with rheumatoid arthritis from a young age, it was when Sammie became a mother that she decided to become more proactive in looking after her health.

"I didn't feel like the doctors were doing anything to help me, so I decided to take things into my own hands," Sammie, who has two children aged 14 and 21, explains. "I first trained as a pilates instructor because I found it helped me so much and I wanted to share that with other women."

Yet women in Sammie's classes were increasingly presenting with other issues, both emotional and physical, and she felt uncomfortable having to refer them elsewhere.

"There are lots of places which offer movement and lots of places which offer talking therapies, but not many which offer both," Sammie says. "I wanted to create a place where woman could come and do the movement, but also stop and relax for a while."

The Breathing Space champions inclusivity and works to create an environment that is safe and non-judgemental.

"It's not about being the fastest or the strongest," Sammie explains. "It's about moving at a level that's right for your body, and that can change day to day. We want people to look after their wellness, not simply move faster and eat less."

Sammie thinks centres like The Breathing Space are needed because society is losing its sense of community.

"Family groups are often fragmented because of work choices or separation," she explains. "Relatives used to share lessons and advice, and chat about what was going on beneath the surface. That doesn't really happen anymore. When people meet up, it's usually for a social event, and there's no time to really talk."

Sammie also feels it's important for women - especially pregnant women - to be able to access reliable information and advice instead of turning to 'doctor Google'. The centre employs two midwives, including Jane Pardoe, who also works at Dorset County Hospital. In addition to workshops aimed at preparing women for caesarean sections or providing an introduction to hypnobirthing, Jane runs a free session on emotional wellbeing in pregnancy.

A post-natal support group led by lactation specialist Lucy Ruddle is also offered free of charge.

As well as classes for pregnant women and new mothers, The Breathing Space offers a range of therapies for the feet, hands and body. From facial reflexology to lymphatic drainage massage - where rhythmic strokes are thought to reduce toxins in the body - the wealth of treatments available is endless. One of the more unusual classes is something called gong healing.

"The sound can be deeply relaxing and has a very soothing effect," Sammie explains. "It can help people challenge negative thought patterns and treat stress-related issues, as well as depression, anxiety and insomnia."

Despite the complicated names, Sammie insists it's all about getting the body to rest and digest.

"Generally, women are busy and hormones can become very out of balance," she says. "Anything that calms people down is going to improve hormonal balance and make people feel better. By offering a range of services, we can ensure that there is something for everyone and that no one gets left behind."

As to why Sammie decided to open a centre predominantly for women, the answer is simple.

"Women often put themselves at the bottom of their to-do list," she says. "Although we do have some classes which welcome men, and one male member of staff, we specialise in women because I feel like they need a space which is just for them."

Regarding the future of The Breathing Space, Sammie already has plenty of plans in the pipeline. "Next year, we're going to run rural retreats and wellness days. We're already reaching huge numbers of people, from the ages of 14 to 80, and we just hope that more and more people will find us. Watch this space!"

The Breathing Space is open Monday to Saturday, offering classes, courses and workshops to women in Dorchester and beyond.