new gym owner



Twelve months ago, Dean Finegan was literally at crisis point. But with support from his loved ones, accessing mental health services and discovering a talent for lifting, he’s come through the other side.

At the beginning of October, he opened Defiance Gym in Poulton; a strength and conditioning gym that champions BOTH physical and mental health.

Dean, 31 years, loved to play Rugby, but a knee injury ended his ability to participate.

Dean told us:  “I gained a lot of weight and became very unmotivated, and then personal issues took over. I was working in the security team at a local hospital when I had my break-down. A colleague notified the hospitals mental health team who were great. They referred me to a crisis team which included a psychiatrist, OTs, psychologists and nurses.  I developed a stammer that stayed with me for months and my memory was also being affected. I struggled to leave the house and I struggled to communicate with people. ”

Dean was diagnosed with PTSD attributed to trauma in his childhood..

He said: “My instant reaction was, “I can’t have PTSD I’ve never been in the army.” But I learned that you don’t need to have been a soldier to have suffered. Having a diagnosis meant I could receive the right medication and it really helped me. “

Lift Weights, Lift Your Mood….

Alongside his support from health services and medication, Dean decided to start going to the gym. The therapeutic benefits of exercise have been widely accepted for some time but this is often associated with cardio activities. A medical study published in 2018 involving over 1,800 people found that those with mild to moderate depression observed a “significant” reduction in symptoms after completing resistance training on just two or more days per week. The findings of the paper also suggested that resistance exercises might yield even greater benefits for people with moderate to severe depressive symptoms. 

Putting Yourself Back Out There

There’s also the social element of attending a gym, which Dean believes was key to re-building his confidence.

He said: “When I first started going to the gym, I’d have my hood up and headphones in so I didn’t have to interact with people. I started lifting and found it therapeutic. I also realised I was quite good at it; other people noticed too and began talking to me about what I was doing. They’d ask how long I’d been lifting and were surprised I’d not been at it very long. This really boosted my confidence and helped me to communicate with people again. As I became more confident talking to people in the gym, I also started talking about what had been happening in my life. People saw this big, strong male who was happy to talk about these things and it made them realise that they could talk about their experiences too. Life isn’t always about winning.”

A New Venture…

Once Dean was able to return to work, he couldn’t stop thinking about starting a new business venture; one that combined his experiences over recent months. Having never started a business before he turned to friends for advice.

Dean said: “I went to my friend and said ‘I’ve had this idea for a strength and conditioning gym and a charity that I can use as a platform to talk about mental health.’ He thought it was a great idea and took me to meet his Accountant at Rawcliffe’s. I took a bit of a business plan and although I had felt nervous, Joseph Tantram [Rawcliffe & Co Director] made me feel at ease right away. It was nothing like Dragon’s Den which I thought it might be like; being quizzed and asked really complicated questions. But Joe just let me talk about my ideas and really listened. I was very lucky to secure financial backing early on and Joe liaised with my investors to ensure Defiance Gym would be set up within the correct legal framework.”

Going from Strength to Strength

Over the past 12 months Dean has literally gone from strength to strength in every possible way. As well as becoming a new gym owner he is on course to compete for England’s Strongest Man next year. He hopes it might be a platform he can use for championing mental health and hopefully helping other people. One day Dean would like to run mental health workshops for sports students in colleges and universities that promotes the benefits of strength training combined with discussions around supporting team mates who may be experiencing mental health difficulties.

Dean said: “I have realised I enjoyed sharing my experiences and educating others about mental health. When I’m devising social media posts, I always emphasize to people that coming to Defiance gym is about both physical AND mental strength training. People think you have to be big to be strong. You don’t. You could be 8 stone and 4 foot nothing and still be strong. It’s not about big, burly men throwing really heavy weights about.”

Defiance Gym is keen to dispel the stereotype of the men only Strong man gym and aims to be inclusive. “We have men and women who have never lifted training alongside people entering Strong Man Comps. We have Rugby Teams in doing training sessions and we run Strong Man Sunday which is for men and women who want to try the events you would see in a competition. In January we are rolling out a female only boot camp and running our own Strong Man and lifting competitions right here at the Gym.”

Find Defiance Strength & Conditioning on Facebook here..


Defiance is supported by Rawcliffe & Co’s new HEAD START Initiative. HEAD START is Rawcliffe’s pledge to offer a year’s free accountancy and business support to a local For-Profit start-up each year.

With our focus being on championing Mental Health; start-ups must meet either of the following criteria:

  • The start-up includes promoting mental health and well-being as part of its core-values
  • or promoting mental health and well-being as a secondary purpose to the business


Find out more…