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Keep-fit queen Jean retires after 46 years

By Thomas Parkes | Wordsley | News | Published:

For more than four decades she has been helping women across the Black Country keep fit – and she has never missed a single class.

Jean Hughes along with her Keep Fit class at Wordsley Community Centre

Now, 46 years after putting on her first session, 82-year-old Jean Hughes has decided to ‘wind down’ and call it a day.

When she started out at Wordsley Community Centre in 1972 she only had eight women taking part – and now she has said farewell to 90.

Jean Hughes in 1972

Mother-of-one Jean said: “I’ve always wanted to keep fit. I was going to classes in 1957 in West Bromwich and when I came to live in Kingswinford I joined a class and that’s when I was asked to take it over.

“When I took over in Wordsley, there were only eight women but now there’s 90. It started to build up and it got so big I had to do another class.

“The ladies became friends and it was a lovely friendly atmosphere.

Jean Hughes (front) with members of her keep fit group in 1983

“It was very difficult to walk out and think ‘that’s it, I’ve done it now’, that was a very difficult day. My daughter visited that class for me, knowing that it would be difficult to walk out.

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“It was very unusual to come out of that hall remembering I was one of the first classes to go into it when it was built and it was emotional to walk out and know I would not be going back.

“I had some members with young daughters and then the daughters left to get married and have children of their own, quite a few mothers and daughters over the years.”

Jean Hughes at a celebration garden party to honour her British Empire Medal

Jean, from Kingswinford, has shown so much dedication to the fitness cause that she has never missed a class – even when it snowed.

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She said: “I had to carry a shovel in my car and shovel my way into the hall. I have to think what people will turn up because they know I will turn up.

“When it was snowing last, one lady said ‘well I knew you would be here Jean, so I had to make the effort’.”

Jean Hughes (right) and Ann Bedworth (left), with members of the class after raising and donating £2,500 to Russells Hall Hospital Urology Department

Jean has also helped to raise £129,000 for charity. She said: “Whilst I’m doing keep-fit, I’m fundraising for charity.

“It was very rewarding because I had a husband who spent a lot of time in Russells Hall Hospital but then I would see equipment that was needed and then we would collect for that equipment and then I would see that equipment being used.

“I think we’ve covered most charities.

Jean Hughes (left) at a celebration garden party to honour her forthcoming British Empire Medal, with a mock medal from the "Queen" and Ann Bedworth (white hat) along with other attendees

“It was not just me, it was my group as well. I’ve got a good group of ladies.”

Jean was awarded a British Empire Medal in 2011. She said: “I had a letter with Buckingham Palace on it and you’re not allowed to tell anybody about it at first. It was awarded because of the dedication to keep fit and the community and the charity collection.

“I had been nominated by members of the class and I said I would accept the medal on behalf of my class because I didn’t do it alone. We had a proper ceremony attended by 200 people, including the mayor and mayoress.”

She added: “I always enjoyed it and I always made myself a promise when I put my leotard on. If I did not feel like going, I would stop.

Christine Taylor (left) and Jean Hughes from the Wordsley Keep Fit group raised over £50,000 in 2001

“I’ve got about 80 retirement cards and letters from people that don’t want me to retire, but after 46 years I feel I want a bit of time for me because it’s taken up an awful lot of my time.

“It was a big decision and it took me two years to make my mind up. It’s been a very happy, eventful life and now I’m going to wind down and do what I want to do.”

Jean’s last class was on July 19.

Thomas Parkes

By Thomas Parkes
Trainee Reporter - @TParkes_Star

Trainee reporter at the Express & Star, based in Wolverhampton. Got a story? Get in touch at thomas.parkes@expressandstar.co.uk.

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