The good gym – Meet the runners benefiting the community

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Alex Tylor mixes up his training with GoodGym gardening

“We think that gyms are a waste of energy,” says GoodGym’s founder Ivo Gormley. “There are many neglected tasks and people in our communities that need that energy, and we want to bring these things together.”

GoodGym started in the London borough of Tower Hamlets in 2010 and has since spread across the capital and out to two cities in the south west of the country. They’re expanding out to the south of England this summer.

The group break their 5k run with a gardening clean-up at the Holland Town Estate
The group break their 5k run with a gardening clean-up at the Holland Town Estate

Runners break up their weekly group run with short community tasks like litter-picking and there are regular ‘missions’ where runners clear gardens, change lightbulbs and do odd-jobs for vulnerable people.

GoodGym members can also build a weekly run around a social visit to an isolated older person.

The group break their 5k run with a gardening clean-up at the Holland Town Estate
The group break their 5k run with a gardening clean-up at the Holland Town Estate

Software engineer Alex Tylor joined GoodGym two years ago whilst training for a race. Since joining he’s run regularly with his local group, benefitting from the trained personal coach that leads each GoodGym group.

“I’ve had access to advice and tips on running form and been put through some gnarly circuits to build strength,” he says. “The diversity of the groups is great, with people from all backgrounds and ages turning up and just getting on with something so basic but, as pleasurable as running; incorporating what can often be a solitary hobby directly into our community.”

Holland Town Estate resident Ameena Berkowitz briefs GoodGym runners on the tasks ahead
Holland Town Estate resident Ameena Berkowitz briefs GoodGym runners on the tasks ahead

He and the other runners have cleared litter, pruned and cleared gardens and urban farming co-ops, built an urban gym out of old packing pallets and ‘moved more tables than I can count’. “It’s quite a sight watching a bunch of volunteers turn up, get on with a task for 30 solid minutes as the hosts look at us with utter delight,” he says, “smashing a task that would normally take them all weekend.”

Ameena Berkowitz
Ameena Berkowitz

Tonight’s task involves the group running to the Holland Town Estate 2.5k away to work with resident Ameena Berkowitz on her ongoing clean-up of the area. Specifically, they’re doing some garden maintenance on the playground outside her home.

“I’m a guerrilla gardener gone legit,” she says. “I started a gardening group about a year and a half ago… we needed some muscle to do the dirty work so that gardening would be an attractive proposition for residents.”

Runners, pruning
Runners, pruning

Runners have been coming to the estate once a month and have cleared weeds, dug over beds, cut back shrubs and have helped improve the gardens of local disabled residents.

“It makes for instant, visible impact,” she says. “I can then arrange events for residents that are more engaging: planting fruit bushes and trees and sowing seeds rather than just digging and weeding.”

Alex Tylor mixes up his training with GoodGym gardening
Alex Tylor mixes up his training with GoodGym gardening

Runner Alex is busy cutting back a hedge before the rest of the evening’s work – a few training challenges worked into the 2.5k run back to the starting point. “I’ve met some incredibly lovely people over the years, made some great friends and even met my girlfriend through Good Gym,” he says. “But I think the greatest thing is just the pleasure of seeing local initiatives and communities develop with our help.”

Photography By Travis Hodges

Via. Red Bull Amaphiko

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