Karen meets Penny Bevan Jones

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to retired nurse Penny Bevan Jones, who put her own experience of ill-health to good use when she set up a charity aimed at helping older people stay fit and active .

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to retired nurse Penny Bevan Jones, who put her own experience of ill-health to good use when she set up a charity aimed at helping older people stay fit and active . . .

Born in Harleston to an RAF doctor and an instructor for the Women's League of

Health and Beauty, Penny grew up in Fenland and Essex.

After leaving Westcliffe-on-Sea High School for Girls, where she was a keen swimmer and athlete, she trained as a nurse at St Bartholomew's (Bart's) Hospital, London and spent the early years of her nursing career following her husband - a Royal Navy officer - around the world.

Penny's travels saw her work at hospitals in Singapore, Hong Kong and Europe, but, returning to the UK via the trans-Siberian railway in 1967, she contracted a serious viral infection.

A subsequent skiing accident meant that, by the time her son James was born in 1968, Penny was in almost constant pain.

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After following her mother's recommendation to train as a Women's League of Health and Beauty instructor, Penny regained her former vitality.

But, following the birth of daughter Debbie in 1970, an allergic reaction to penicillin coupled with puerperal psychosis - a severe mental illness triggered by the sudden drop in pregnancy hormones - saw her spend the following 2 years in and out of hospital.

Determined to put her own experience of ill-health to good use, on recovering Penny, who moved to Sheringham in 1979, founded Extend - an organisation whose aim was to train healthcare workers to teach movement to music to the over 50s.

Extend went on to develop a nationwide programme, but after caring full-time for her father, who had Parkinson's disease, Penny realised there were benefits to be gained from the scheme for those with injuries, long-term illnesses and disabilities.

Although by this time divorced and caring single-handedly for her young granddaughter, she founded Excel 2000 in 1993. The charity went on to train hundreds of course directors, who now work all over the region providing movement to music classes to older people and those with health problems.

Based at Sheringham community centre, Excel 2000, which works in partnership with GPs, nurses and physiotherapists, also runs water-based classes for youngsters with special needs and provides exercise sessions in care homes.

Penny, 66, now divides her time between taking classes and running Excel 2000, and her role as a district councillor.

She is North Norfolk district council member champion for health and older people, has been a governor at Sheringham High School since 2000 and is health and older people's representative on the Local Government Association.

Movement to music classes are held on Mondays at North Walsham Methodist Church Day Spring Centre and at West Runton Methodist Church, and on Tuesdays at St Joseph's Church hall, Sheringham. Water-based classes for the over 50s are held at Splash, Sheringham on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with a class for people with arthritis on Wednesdays, and for children with special needs on Saturdays. For more information, or to book a place, visit www.excel2000.org.uk or phone 01263 825670.

Penny would be pleased to hear from anyone willing to support Excel 2000's work with children with special needs, either by making a donation, or by offering to help with fundraising.

What is the best thing about your job?

Seeing people smile; seeing their eyes come alive and feeling that you've given them hope.

And the worst?

The days just aren't long enough!

What is the one possession you would save if your house was on fire?

A photograph of my extended family.

Where do you go to unwind?

For a walk on Sheringham beach - I love the peace, the expansiveness of it, the ripples on the water, and the fact that it's different every day. I feel very lucky to live here.

What is your favourite Norfolk building?

Cromer lighthouse, because of the light it shines and the lives it saves.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

You don't always have a chance to say sorry, so if I've ever caused offence or emotionally hurt anyone, I'd like for that not to have happened.

What is your proudest moment?

That's probably connected with my family and their achievements: like my son becoming a pilot, or my granddaughter doing well at college.

And your greatest achievement?

Laughing through adversity; one of my nicknames is “Bobalot” because, like a cork that gets pushed under the water, I keep popping back up - and I hope I encourage other people to do the same.

What makes you angry?

When I hear about vulnerable people who aren't getting the help they need.

Do you have any fears or phobias?

No, because, without my faith, I wouldn't be here now. I feel that it will sustain me in any situation, even when it's time for me to pop off!

Favourite book, film and TV programme?

Book: Heal Your Body, by Louise Hay, film: any of the Harry Potter movies, and TV programme: BBC 1's Countryfile as it's about looking after the environment for future generations.

How would you like to be remembered?

For having brought a sparkle into a few people's lives, and as someone who, when faced with a hurdle, never gave up.