Paul Bown: Goodgym trainer

Estimated reading time:6 minutes, 57 seconds

Everyone has a story. If you’d like to do good, get to know Islington better and get fit, simultaneously, then you might enjoy joining Goodgym. Here Paul Bown explains how Goodgym – which operates in 39 areas across the UK, including Islington – helps combat isolation and benefits communities. Interview by Nicola Baird. Photos by Kimi Gill

Paul Bown from Goodgym Islington & Camden. (c) Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

Freshly arrived in London, after growing up in Colchester and completing a history degree at the University of Kent, Paul Bown spent his first Wednesday in the Big Smoke pounding the streets with Goodgym in a bid to get to know his new community.

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“It’s not a standard running club,” says Paul. “Goodgym aims to benefit the community and through that you benefit yourself. I’m one of hundreds, maybe thousands of people, who have been inspired by Ivo Gormley, who founded Goodgym in 2009 originally to combat isolation. He saw how exercise was quite a selfish thing to do – it’s all about good looks or losing weight. And he saw gyms as the worst idea with treadmills going nowhere, indoors and people lifting weights that don’t need lifting.”

Goodgym had help from Nesta setting up. It is now all round the UK, from Barnet to York.  

“Runners in general are lovely people but this is the friendliest group of people I’ve ever known.” His first meet up was back in 2014, and by January 2016 Paul, 26, had become Goodgym’s Islington & Camden trainer which now has over 400 members. This means for 50 weeks of the year Paul organises a weekly run setting off from Arsenal Community Hub, near the Emirates. After about 3km the runners stop to do a community task for half an hour, before running back to base.

“There were 23 people on our Monday 13 November run, including three new people. We did a time trail around the Emirates stadium and we ran to Whittington Park Community Association where we collected 23 bags of leaves and some rubbish. In the autumn there is a lot of bagging of leaves! It took us just half an hour to collect 23 bags, but that would be a lot of work for one person – a couple of days,” says Paul who has organised a plethora of Goodgym good deeds around Islington helping out community associations, park friends, Islington’s city farm, Freightliners, and homeless projects (see box below).

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Paul Bown from Goodgym Islington & Camden: “Runners in general are lovely people but this is the friendliest group of people I’ve ever known.” (c) Paul Bown

Places Paul Bown enjoys group and mission runs in Islington
To date Goodgym Islington (minus the Camden stats) has done 4,251 good deeds, 669 coach runs and 60 mission runs.

  • Caxton House, 129 St John’s Way, N19 (3km: 18mins) Rose and Sue (mother and daughter) always find us something to do here. The community centre near Archway has a huge garden which needs looking after. We see the effect of the cuts – the council doesn’t have funds for cleaners or gardeners so we run in, like a flash mob, and do what’s needed. Here we got rid of thistles, nettles and thorns so the kids can play safely, see report of the GGers
  • We planted trees in Canonbury and Hornsey for a The Single homeless project.
  • St Lukes at Old Street, EC1 (4km: 24mins) It’s brilliant here. On our last visit we sanded down and polished up lots of outdoor furniture. It was quite hard work – https://www.goodgym.org/reports/sanding-with-the-stars
  • Hildrop Community Centre , N7 (3km: 17 mins) They had a stinking pond that needed emptying.
  • In Camden 45 of us (not recently was November 2016) packed 2000 condoms for the Terrence Higgins Trust in advance of World Aids Day.
  • Freightliners Farm (2km), Sheringham Road, N7 20 of did some tidying up – we helped move, clean out and repair old cages. Then we hugged the animals took pictures with the goats and ran on – https://www.goodgym.org/reports/having-a-wheely-goodgym-time 

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Paul Bown from Goodgym Islington & Camden at La Belle Epoque cafe on Newington Green (c) Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

Meet your coach
A run, followed by a group meet is only one of Goodgym’s good deeds. Another is a befriending service that matches a runner with an older person, 60+, who is known as the runner’s “coach”. A regular weekly date is then set up to encourage the runner to get fit and to ensure the older person has someone visiting who will be willing to chat. “It’s to combat isolationism and help communities,” explains Paul.

“I was paired with May, who was 91, and lived in Canonbury. My grandparents are in their early 70s and healthy and mobile so it was like having a great gran again. May had worked for the NHS for 25 years, was an avid walker but for the last 10 years of her life had not been able to get outside. I’d go and see her every Monday and we’d chat. I got tea or wine  – she got me into tea – and she’d have whisky and water. She told me I was ‘too young for whisky’! I love history and loved meeting her. She’d lived through the Blitz, was clever but isolated,” says Paul who reckons he met up with his coach (ie, May) around 70 times (that’s the equivalent of 70 trips to the gym). Sadly May fell ill, had to go to hospital and then passed away in December 2016.

“Despite spending every Monday evening with May my regret is not spending more Mondays with her,” says Paul. It’s clear he still misses May but her legacy, in addition to a new appreciation of tea, is that he is now doing a part time course in counselling and psychotherapy at Regent’s University in Regent’s Park. He is also qualified as a running coach which is why he knows that Islington’s Goodgym group run at around 5.30-5.40 minutes per kilometre (9 minutes a mile).

“We are born to run. If you can run for more than 15 minutes without stopping then you are fit enough to join Goodgym. The worst word is ‘can’t’ – you can run and should get involved,” adds Paul who runs eight to 10 hours a week. “For me it’s the challenge. It’s also my time on my own, a time to digest the day

Goodgym Islington & Camden midway through a mission. (c) Paul Bown

Goodgym is a brilliant idea. By offering group runs with a community task, and coach runs with regular planned meet ups with an isolated elder, it’s much easier to be motivated to get up off the sofa and pull on your trainers, whatever the weather or however the day has gone. As the organisation claims, it’s a way to get fit as you do good. If you’re tempted to have a go – there’s always an influx of newbies trying it out in January – Paul’s organising a starter session on Saturday 13 January. Why not sign up (via the website) so you too can start a new feel good exercise regime?

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird dot green at gmail dot com. Thank you to Ernie Jegorovas for suggesting this interview.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola