GoodGym is running up good deeds in Birmingham
A combination of a running group and a voluntary organisation, GoodGym members get fit by doing good.
GoodGym launched in Birmingham on a cold Tuesday evening in January, with special guest Paralympic gold medallist and Strictly Come Dancing star Jonnie Peacock in attendance to keep the energy up.
Each Tuesday evening, the Birmingham group and its professional trainer Jonny leave their starting point in the Jewellery Quarter for a Group Run – a few kilometres – to a charity or local community project, where they get stuck in with some voluntary tasks. This could be something like helping to serve dinner at a homeless shelter, litter-picking along the canal or doing some weeding at a community vegetable garden. Afterwards, they do some bootcamp-style exercises and run back to the start.
With between ten and 20 runners taking part each week, many hands really do make light work. The Brum GoodGymmers have so far volunteered with organisations including the Birmingham City Mission Care Centre, FareShare, Vernon Sea Cadets, SIFA Fireside and the Stanhope Community Centre, taking on big jobs that could be daunting for volunteers working by themselves. They make donations of interview clothes to Suited for Success and keep a city-centre stretch of the canal litter-free, as part of the Canal and River Trust’s Adopt a Canal scheme.
This area of canal also features fruit trees planted by GoodGym earlier this year – a task captured by The Guardian for an online article. BBC Midlands Today accompanied the team on a litter-picking mission while ITV Central News filmed them getting their hands dirty at Stanhope Community Centre’s garden. The initiative has attracted a lot of attention, thanks to its combination of fun fitness activities (members should be able to run for more than 15 minutes, but there’s always a back marker to ensure no-one gets left behind), varied volunteering opportunities and an emphasis on the city and its community.
The Birmingham group welcomes contact from other charities and organisations who need a hand, but these weekly group runs are just one element of GoodGym’s approach to getting fit by doing good.
GoodGym’s roots go back to when founder Ivo Gormley began running regularly to visit a family friend who was housebound. As well as the social aspect and helping him work towards his own fitness goals, this gave Ivo extra motivation to go out for a run. This concept developed into an initial three GoodGym groups, launched in London in 2014, and the Coach Runs taken on by GoodGym members.
Coach Runs to tackle social isolation
As opposed to the en-masse volunteering of Group Runs, Coach Runs see one GoodGym runner paired with an isolated older person, who are known as ‘coaches’ because they encourage regular running. According to Age UK, more than a million people aged 65 and over always or often feel lonely, so a weekly visit from a friendly face can make a big difference. The runners benefit hugely too, from the friendship and life experience of their older coach.
In addition, there are Mission Runs: one-off tasks for older people who need assistance now and then, with things like gardening or changing lightbulbs. This three-strand approach can make an impact on both the coaches and charities visited by GoodGym, but also on the runners. The satisfaction that comes with volunteering, a better knowledge of their city, the motivation to keep running – even on chilly, damp winter nights – that leads to improved fitness, and the social contact of running with a group all help members’ wellbeing. Many GoodGym members are new to the city, and find a friendly welcome to Birmingham among the runners.
The tasks also help to spread the word about the many organisations working in the city and the work they do. Following a Group Run to FareShare West Midlands, one GoodGym member began to volunteer regularly with the food distribution charity and has recently started working there as a full-time employee.
GoodGym groups are springing up in cities across the UK and Birmingham’s is growing month by month – along with its opportunities for volunteers.
For more information, please visit www.goodgym.org/areas/birmingham or email GoodGym Birmingham’s trainer Jonny at firstname.lastname@example.org.