GoodGym – a new concept that helps people get fit while helping others – has launched in Chelmsford thanks to a £20,000 grant from Essex County Council.
The venture, considered one of the most innovative social projects in the UK, encourages Good Samaritans to combine their runs with one-off missions, from decorating a community centre or clearing a garden, to doing odd jobs for people in need.
Runners are also paired with older people to run errands, like changing a lightbulb or picking up a prescription, but most importantly they provide friendship to combat loneliness among the county’s most isolated residents.
“We think gyms are a waste of energy,” said Ken Hoye, 40, who leads the Chelmsford group, which already has 20 members and another 246 who have registered an interest since its launch six weeks ago.
“There are many neglected tasks and people in our communities that need that energy. We want to bring these things together.
“Our community of runners and qualified trainers help people to achieve their fitness goals by doing physical work that helps their community.
“Something we have been working on a lot is loneliness among older people; over one million people aged 65 and over admit to always or often feeling lonely, and 17 per cent of those living alone see their family and friends less than once a week.
“We run to make social visits to isolated older people who we call our ‘coaches’ because they motivate us to keep going.”
A group has also launched in Colchester after a similar grant from Colchester Borough Council and has already attracted 14 members and another 204 are interested in joining.
Weekly missions include all kinds of manual labour for charity groups or organisations, with qualified trainers leading weekly group runs, ranging from 3km to 15km, for people of all abilities.
“We have helped a variety of causes since we began from local libraries, charities and community projects doing all kinds of work,” added Ken.
“We have an amazing group keen to help a variety of causes, so please tell us if you know of an area that can use our energy. We have completed a lot of garden based projects but are keen for things we can do once the weather gets colder and darker.
“We’re especially keen for people to tell us about lonely or isolated people who could use a friend or someone to run errands and do odd jobs.”
The GoodGym concept was piloted in Tower Hamlets and has since been commissioned by councils and the NHS across London, and other parts of the country.
Cllr Anne Brown, Cabinet Member for Communities and Healthy Living, said: “We’re delighted to fund the launch of the Chelmsford branch of GoodGym. It’s billed as one of the most innovative social projects in the country right now, so we’re keen to trial it here in Essex.
“Keeping fit is so important, but to be able to do that and help someone at the same time is unbelievable. I hope the people of Essex will not only volunteer, but are able to nominate the missions needed to make this a success.”
Membership is free, but a monthly donation is encouraged.
GOOD DEEDS – CHELMSFORD
- Twelve runners ran 4.1k to clear some flytipped compost from the Great Baddow Scouts site on Wednesday, August 31, before running their separate ways home.
- Despite record temperatures and a record distance run for GoodGym Chelmsford on August 24, nine people ran 9k to Broomfield allotments to dig a ditch, tackle overgrown hedgerows and clear vegetable patches of weeds.
- On August 17, 11 runners met at the Ideas Hub before running 6km around Central Park as they spread the word about GoodGym by handing out flyers. They even tackled an Olympic themed task – getting selfies with five people each wearing a colour to make up the Olympic rings.
GOOD DEEDS – COLCHESTER
- On August 31, 13 runners jogged from Leisure World, Colchester, to Colchester Institute to clear an overgrown pathway of nettles.
- On August 24, 13 Goodgym runners visited Colchester Canoe Club to litter pick the banks of the River Colne.
- On August 17, 17 people ran to Colchester and Tendring Women's Refuge to weed and clear their car park.