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Accessible gyms and exercise for all

Updated: May 23, 2020

When I heard that Old School Fitness had become a social enterprise I was curious. I have rented a room there for a year and felt an affinity with their philosophy. I contributed to their crowdfunder by offering to do one burpee for every pound raised. I expected to have about 10 minutes of hell as we all know one burpee is a burpee too many. Instead, you generous folk donated £416 and I spent 90 minutes hating each and every one of those exercises. Today I've invited Old School Fitness to tell us more about their plans to be the West Midlands most accessible and inclusive gym.

Old School Fitness Coventry
Old School Fitness Coventry

Old School Fitness is homed in an old schoolhouse, built in 1873...thus, we are Old School Fitness. We started off (October 2018) with the aim of being like every other gym. Yet, we found that somehow, we were different. Very quickly, we created a very friendly and very loyal community. We have male and female PTs, a yoga and a trainee yoga teacher, an occupational therapist, a life coach, a sport therapy centre, two running coaches, a beauty technician, and a bunch of smiley faces.

What a lot of us have in common is our belief in plant-based eating. OSF only uses plant-based milks and sells vegan snacks. We have several recipe books to encourage people to dabble in plant-based meals. Our mindset towards both our food, our bodies and our community is kindness. Only recently have we had the good fortune to link with a local plant nursery. Oakdene Microgreens have become an offshoot of OSF: now our local community has access to extremely nutritious plants as part of their everyday diet.

Several of our members are very open about their mental health struggles. For this reason, the gym has naturally evolved into one that supports both the physical and mental aspect of an individual. We have been able to take this one step further with our newest introduction - SAM: a support, accountability, and mindset coach. SAM is accessible to all. Whether it is goal setting or body confidence, SAM ensures that we place the same amount of attention on the mind as we do on the body.

With all this bubbling away in the background, we realised that OSF would be able to reach a greater number of people in a more effective manner if we became a Community Interest Community. So, we did. As of 16th April 2020, we became a non-profit, social enterprise group, priding ourselves on supporting every individual in becoming the best version of themselves.

Accessible gym west midlands

Hello, my name is Steph. In 2012, I was a Game Maker for the London Olympics. I became OBSESSED with the Paralympics. I vividly remember watching my first event: the men's Canada vs England wheelchair basketball. When the first collision occurred, my friend and I were speechless, filled with awkwardness, we looked on with absolute sympathy for this poor person who would surely be absolutely mortified but...oh...wait a minute, he had literally bounced back in his chair and nobody (other than us) had battered an eyelid. In that moment, for me, the stereotype of the wheelchair user was shattered. The Channel 4 Superhuman campaign cemented my complete awe in which I viewed parathletes. Research undertaken by Channel 4 showed that 82% of UK adults believed the Paralympics were important for improving society's perceptions of disABLED people. The research also showed that more than 90% of people who saw the adverts said it was a positive portrayal of disABILITY. More than 80% of people who saw the ad felt it showed disABILITY in a new light (with this figure increasing to nearly 90% for people with disABILITIES who took part in the survey).

The 2012 Paralympics and the Superhumans campaign created a legacy. Eight years later, I am now able to pick back up that mantle: championing diversity, innovation, new talent, and celebrating the amazing abilities of both Paralympians and everyday people.

OSF is a successful gym. We have more members than we ever envisioned. But now we need to step up.

  • -One in three disABLED people said that there is a lot of prejudice against disABLED people in Britain.

  • -Four in five disABLED people would like to be more active.

  • -DisABLED adults are twice as likely as non-disABLED adults to be physically inactive.

  • -Only 14% of non-disABLED people have exercised alongside disABLED people. Yet, 73% said they would love the chance to do so.

  • In 2015, 53% of people thought that, as a disABLED person, there were more barriers to making and keeping friends. This rose to more than three quarters (77%) for young disABLED people aged 18-34.

Now is the time to breakdown boundaries.

Old School Fitness CIC will be a platform for inclusive, inspiring, and empowering imagery of disABILITY. Increasing the spotlight on parathletes will become part of our mainstream culture and, every day, both disABLED and non-disABLED people will exercise, socialise, and inspire each other to be the best version of themselves.

There are only five inclusive gyms accredited by the Inclusive Fitness Initiative in the West Midlands: we are ready to become the sixth.

You can follow Steph and Old school Fitness's progress towards inclusivity on Facebook and Instagram

In the meantime keep an eye out as I will be announcing an exciting collaboration with Old School Fitness and Cameron Grant Memorial Trust shortly.

Sarah is an Occupational Therapist and personal trainer who is passionate about helping people flourish @MoodLifterPT She is always happy to be contacted if you want to find out more.

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