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Everyone has a story. If youâd 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 â which operates in 39 areas across the UK, including Islington – helps combat isolation and benefits communities. Interview by Nicola Baird. Photos by Kimi Gill
Freshly arrived in London, after growing up in Colchester andÂ 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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âItâs not a standard running club,â says Paul. âGoodgym aims to benefit the community and through that you benefit yourself. Iâm 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 â itâs 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.â
Goodgym had help from Nesta setting up. It is now all round the UK, from Barnet to York. Â
âRunners in general are lovely people but this is the friendliest group of people Iâve ever known.â His first meet up was back in 2014, and by January 2016 Paul, 26, had become Goodgymâs 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.
âThere were 23 people on ourÂ 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 â a couple of days,â says Paul who has organised a plethora of Goodgym good deeds around Islington helping out community associations, park friends, Islingtonâs city farm, Freightliners, and homeless projects (see box below).
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, N19Â (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 â the council doesnât have funds for cleaners or gardeners so we run in, like a flash mob, and do whatâs needed. Here we got rid of thistles, nettles and thorns so the kids can play safely, see report of the GGers.Â
- We planted trees in Canonbury and Hornsey for a The Single homeless project.
- St Lukes at Old Street, EC1 (4km: 24mins) Itâs 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 CentreÂ , 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, N7Â 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-timeÂ
Meet your coach
A run, followed by a group meet is only one of Goodgymâs good deeds. Another is a befriending service that matches a runner with an older person, 60+, who is known as the runnerâs âcoachâ. 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. âItâs to combat isolationism and help communities,â explains Paul.
âI 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. Iâd go and see her every Monday and weâd chat. I got tea or wine Â – she got me into tea â and sheâd have whisky and water. She told me I was âtoo young for whiskyâ! I love history and loved meeting her. Sheâd lived through the Blitz, was clever but isolated,â says Paul who reckons he met up with his coach (ie, May) around 70 times (thatâs the equivalent of 70 trips to the gym). Sadly May fell ill, had to go to hospital and then passed away in December 2016.
âDespite spending every Monday evening with May my regret is not spending more Mondays with her,â says Paul. Itâs 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 Regentâs University in Regentâs Park. He is also qualified as a running coach which is why he knows that Islingtonâs Goodgym group run at around 5.30-5.40 minutes per kilometre (9 minutes a mile).
âWe 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 âcanâtâ â you can run and should get involved,â adds Paul who runs eight to 10 hours a week. âFor me itâs the challenge. Itâs also my time on my own, a time to digest the dayâ
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, itâs 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, itâs a way to get fit as you do good. If youâre tempted to have a go â thereâs always an influx of newbies trying it out in January â Paulâs 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?
- General info about Goodgym here https://www.goodgym.org
- facebookÂ Â |Â Â @goodgymÂ Â |Â Â instagram
- https://www.goodgym.org/areas/islington is sponsored by Arsenal Community Foundation.
- DATE FOR YOUR DIARY: If you are tempted to join Goodgym then there will be a starter session in Islington for new people on Saturday 13 January. Meet at Arsenal Community hub. The run will be to Union Chapel (about a mile). Sign up through the website.Â
Over to you
If youâd 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 theÂ A-Z Â index, orÂ search by intervieweeâs roles orÂ Meet IslingtoniansÂ to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola