Barbara Dewast & Alison Gill: From City Lawyers to entrepreneurs

If you like the idea of swapping your 9-5 office job to launch your own business, you’ll love the story of Barbara Dewast and Alison Gill. The former City lawyers ditched the daily grind to launch their wellbeing business Workout at Work.

I caught up with them recently and felt very inspired…

Workout at Work

Alison Gill (left) and Barbara Dewast (right) of Workout at Work

Barbara Dewast and Alison Gill – tell us about yourselves.

Barbara: I’m originally from Paris, I’m married to my husband Greg and I’m a mum of three living in Clapham, South London. I’ve had a varied career and worked for the Opera industry in France but later trained as a lawyer in London.

Alison: I’m originally from Scotland, I used to live in Battersea (now in St Albans) with my fiancé Simon and met Barbara while studying as trainee lawyers. I’ve lived and worked in South Africa and Europe. I used to juggle Workout at Work with my role as a consultant lawyer, but these days focus more on Workout at Work full time.

Canary Wharf London

martin_vmorris via Flickr Creative Commons

What were your lives like when you worked in the City?

Barbara: I’d get up at 6.30am to get the children ready, put on a dress and heels and be out of the door by 7.30am to work 8-9 hour days in the office. It was very busy and fast paced and my day would vary from client-faced meetings to reviewing documents, emailing and researching. In the evenings I sometimes wouldn’t get home until 8.30pm, just in time to put the children to bed. It was a busy life!

Alison: I’d get up around 7am and often met Barbara at the train station to commute to the firm together. I worked as an IP lawyer so my role varied from assisting with negotiations to drafting witness statements and preparing court documents. I often didn’t return home until 10pm – which didn’t leave much time for doing anything else!

Laurence Edmondson via Flickr Creative Commons

Why did you decide to launch Workout at Work?

Barbara: As a working mum in a high-pressured job, I often struggled to take care of myself and have that all important ‘me time’. The more we talked about it, the more it made sense. I left my job in 2013 and Alison left hers in 2014 and Workout at Work was born.

What is the ethos behind Workout at Work?

Alison: Workout at Work is about offering a solution to work life balance and giving office workers an opportunity to enjoy that precious ‘me time’ we both lost when we worked in our city jobs.

We offer bespoke wellness packages which can include anything from yoga and meditation sessions to nutritional advice and boot camps. We even send mobile beauty therapists into companies to deliver massages and spray tans!

Workout at Work

Jean Henrique Wichinoski via Flickr Creative Commons

What’s it been like setting up your own business?

Barbara: Some days can be very intense and overwhelming but I find that a little bit of research, patience and a lot of ‘can do’ attitude solves most problems!

What reactions did you get when you decided to launch W@W?

Alison: I think my legal colleagues thought I was mad. It is a huge step to leave a well-paid secure job for the unknown, but I’m glad I made the leap!

How have companies reacted to your service?

Barbara: Our clients are very supportive and we are often thanked by employees for making their day better which is incredibly satisfying. HR managers like that we understand the corporate world so there’s a good match between their needs and what we deliver.

What’s your daily routine like now you’re an entrepreneur?

Barbara: I get up at 7am to check my emails and get the children ready at 7.30. My nanny arrives at 8.30 and then I lock myself up in my room to start my day’s work. I attend meetings in the City at least twice a week, and try out new classes or concepts as much as possible. I’m constantly multi-tasking, but the difference now is I can fit in a 20-minute yoga session each day and I’m much more a part of my children’s daily lives.

Alison: I still get up around 7am but have a healthy breakfast – gone are the days when I’d just grab a yoghurt at work or worse, not eat anything at all. I work from home around three days a week and often have a meeting with Barbara in one of the coffee shops in Battersea. My other days are spent meeting with existing and potential clients, or new instructors in London. From 8pm I try to focus on dinner with my fiancé, friends, family or a gym class.

Workout at Work

Jared Scheel via Flickr Creative Commons

What do you like best about having your own business?

Barbara: I am free to decide how, who, when and what. And I can wear my plastic yellow Ice watch to work!

Alison: I now have a pleasant three-minute commute to my home office and it’s great knowing a court deadline isn’t going to interrupt my evening plans.

What are your favourite restaurants in London?

Barbara: I love my locals on the Northcote road, and always crave for a patisserie at Le Merveilleux de Fred!

Alison: Franco Manca in Clapham Junction or Brixton (definitely worth queuing for!) and River Quarter Kitchen in Battersea – it’s perfect for a lazy Sunday brunch on the riverfront.

Oh So London

Michael Stevens via Flickr Creative Commons

What’s your favourite thing to do at the weekend?

Barbara: Have a lazy family breakfast with a chocolatey Mocha, a long walk in Richmond Park with the ‘minis’ and hubby and a dinner with friends with lots of champagne!

Alison: Spending time with my fiancé, planning our wedding (I’ll definitely need another hobby once it’s all over!) and playing tennis.

Oh So London

David D’Amico via Flickr Creative Commons

Big thank you to Barbara Dewast and Alison Gill for taking the time to feature on Oh So London. If you want to find out more about Workout at Work, check out the links below.


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Enjoyed this Q&A? Read our Q&A with Leslie Saglio on Wellness, Yoga and SERENE Social in London