Meet the Armagh man who went Down Under to find work... and fell for a Kiwi lady living in London
Their love crossed oceans, but now Neal McCaffin and Yvette Brooke are opening a Pilates business in Belfast. Stephanie Bell reports
They grew up in different corners of the globe and settled on opposite sides of the world, but Co Armagh man Neal McCaffin and his New Zealand partner Yvette Brooke believe fate contrived to bring them together.
In a love story which spans oceans and several continents, the couple both left their homes on the exact same month in the same year to start new lives on the other side of the world.
Yvette (29) left New Zealand to settle in London while Neal (28) wanted to spread his wings and literally crossed her path on his way to start a new life in Australia.
It was by pure chance they met in 2012 when Yvette was home in New Zealand on holiday, and Neal was also visiting her home country to follow the Irish rugby tour.
Both had tickets for the match and had gathered with friends in the same pub - Father Ted's in Auckland - for pre-match drinks.
They hit it off immediately, went to the match together and within just three months of Yvette returning to London, they had decided they wanted to be together.
Three years on and the loved-up young couple have finally decided to make their permanent home in Belfast where later this month they will be launching an exciting new fitness brand.
Reform Pilates has been taking fitness by storm and reformer machines are lined up in Pilates studios in major cities all over the world.
Neal and Yvette are excited to be the first to introduce this popular new fitness craze to Northern Ireland and are so convinced of the impact it will have that they already have plans to roll it out to other areas.
Yvette, a trained Pilates teacher and professional dancer, will also be offering Barre training in their new studio Reform, which is also an unusual form of exercise using a ballet bar.
"It is very exciting opening the studio and it has been a lot of hard work getting it ready, but we really believe in it and are looking forward to getting it up and running," she says.
"I was really surprised there are no reformer machines in Belfast so ours will be the first.
"The beauty of them is they offer a full body workout with no impact so they appeal to people of all ages and levels, from those who are complete beginners to professional sports people."
Yvette and Neil have spent their first three years together travelling, so feel ready to settle and focus on their joint venture together.
They decided on Belfast after Yvette fell in love with the city while visiting Neal's family.
The irony of how they met is a story they enjoy sharing. "It is strange we grew up on different sides of the world and at the same time in our lives decided to leave our home countries. "We were like ships crossing in the night as Neal flew to my part of the world at the same time I was flying to his," said Yvette.
"It does sound cheesy, but we did click straight away when we eventually met up in New Zealand and we had a long distance love affair for a few months after I went back to London.
"I left New Zealand for London because I wanted to be a professional dancer and I did Pilates between jobs. I did dance and some commercial work while I was in London."
It was just three months into their relationship - mainly conducted through long distance phone calls - that they decided they wanted to be together and Yvette joined Neal in Australia.
They spent the next three years working in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. "I went to Australia when I was 20. I had been working on construction sites and just wanted to get out and see some of the world," says Neal.
"It is ironic I met Yvette in New Zealand, even though she was living in London at the time. I never thought that would happen, but that's life.
"We went to the match together and had a great night and met for coffee the next day and really hit it off.
"The past three years travelling has been a bit of adventure for us and we have been picking up what we can in preparation for launching our studio.
"I really think the studio is going to kick-off and we hope to grow it pretty fast and open another one in a different part of the city soon.
"It is a new-age type of fitness and the studio is really boutique in style which we hope will make it easy for people to drop into. We are also opening at 6am so that people can call on their way to work."
Invented by Pilate's founder Joseph Pilates, the reformer is a bed-like frame with a flat platform called the carriage, which rolls back and forth on wheels within the frame.
It offers all the famous benefits of Pilates including overall strength, flexibility, coordination and balance.
In turn this form of exercise can lead to general health improvements such as better posture, graceful, efficient movement and, for many, relief from pain associated with physical imbalances such as back pain.
The reformer helps increase flexibility while building strength.
Athletes and sports stars all over the world are using the machine to help develop their cores - the deep abdominal muscles along with the muscles closest to the spine which helps them have more agility, helps prevent injury and increases performance.
"We have been in touch with Ulster Rugby and hope the team will take up an invitation to come and try it out. It is also really popular with footballers and athletes. But it isn't just professional sports people who can benefit from it," says Neal.
"It offers an intense workout pushing the body to the limit without impact.
"It is basically training your body to move and making the joints more fluid so there is less chance of injury. It is also very popular for people who are in rehabilitation for spinal injuries and back problems, and even for those who don't exercise at all but want to get fit. The equipment can look a bit intimidating, but it is quite fun to use."
Initially the studio will house five reformer machines which will allow Yvette to closely coach each client and there will also be one-to-one sessions available.
Yvette has drawn on her training as a dancer to devise a specially tailored programme of exercise which she is also very excited to be offering for the first time in Belfast.
"The Barre training is based on ballet principles, but you don't have to be a dancer to do it," she says.
"It is aimed at anyone from aged 16 and up and we do use a ballet bar. There will be lots of benefits from the programme which will mainly encourage better posture."
The couple has also teamed up with Lucas Hugh in London, who provided the clothing for the recent Hunger Games movie starring Jennifer Lawrence, and will be the only Northern Ireland stockist of their exclusive brand of sportswear.
They have also just launched a website - www.reformstudios.co.uk - and are planning a huge social media campaign in the build up to their studio on the Lisburn Road opening on August 31.
So confident are they in the equipment that in the week leading up to the launch, Yvette and Neil will be out and about around the city with their reformer machine, inviting people to try it out and then asking them to tweet and share their experience on social media. The service they offer is expected to be trendsetting and high-end, designed to suit today's busy lifestyle.
"The idea is that it's boutique fitness which is geared towards making it easy for people to turn up and train and pampered with complementary towels, iced lemon/lime water, and a personal bathroom," says Yvette. "We will also have a free app to download from iTunes and Google Play to allow people to manage their own classes and review their training."
The studio will open from 6am to 8.30pm and, as an opening offer, you can book your first two classes for just £10.
The couple are naturally excited to be launching their new business venture together and also to finally putting down their roots.
For Yvette who has travelled extensively, there was no question about where they should settle after she sampled life in Belfast.
"I love the city and I love that it has so much culture and history and a bit of grit about it.
"Belfast has soul and I can relate to it.
"I love the people as well and there is so much potential here, so much is happening, and it's like the city is waking up. We hope to be part of that."