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How to Get Fit and Do Good Too
Health and beauty
March 2024
Reading time 4 Minutes

GoodGym is a unique UK-wide charity that combines fitness with lending a hand to the local community

Want to joint a community of people who get fit by doing good? Read on to discover more about the great work GoodGym are doing and just how you can get involved.
GoodGym members

Anji was a committed parkrunner, running coach and working in communications for Marathon Talk, a popular running podcast, when GoodGym first crossed her radar. When Ivo Gormley, who founded GoodGym, was interviewed on Marathon Talk, she was immediately intrigued by the charity, which describes itself as ‘a community of people who get fit by doing good’.

The combination of fitness, community work, and the way it seemed able to bring together diverse groups of people seemed like the perfect combination of her core values. Unfortunately, Anji is based in South Shields and the nearest GoodGym branch was in York. ‘I’d read about it and forgot about it,’ she says, that is until a month later when her friend sent her a job advert for a new role as Newcastle’s Area Activator. She applied and got the job.

The application process was anything but simple. ‘I was diagnosed with a heart condition about two months before that, and I’d been in cardiac rehab,’ she explains. Nevertheless, she applied and got the job. ‘I thought “is this timing right?”,’ she continues. ‘But they were very patient with me and by the time GoodGym came to launch, which was in April 2018, I was well enough to run.’

Anji has been running the Newcastle group for almost six years now, and tells me that their ‘good deeds’ are divided into two categories. Their ‘group runs’ happen about once a week and follow a consistent formula. ‘We meet somewhere, [then] we run, walk or cycle to do a good deed of some kind,’ Anji explains. ‘It’s always a charity or a community project that we help. We’re always not-for-profit. Then we do a physical task, usually for half an hour to 40 minutes, and run, jog or walk back with some kind of fitness element tied into that.

‘Thousands of good deeds have been done in that way,’ she says. ‘They are probably our biggest attended [events] as well; we’ve had over 50 people – which is like herding cats – and we’ve done those all over Newcastle.’

For a few years now the group has had their base at Stepney Bank Stables in Ouseburn, a riding school and charity which gives children living in deprived areas the opportunity to work with horses. The stables is also one of the main charities that they help out at, and this was the case on the night I attended.

On this particular evening, it was too icy to venture outside for the initial run. Instead, after a quick debrief, we were handed brooms, and set about cleaning the perimeter of their arena (this isn’t one to wear your sparkliest new activewear for). After half an hour or so, our efforts were rewarded with a trip to greet the horses before Anji took the group through some stretching exercises in one of the stables’ education rooms. By the end of the evening I’d met a really friendly group of people, felt giddy with the buzz of a new (and worthwhile) experience, and I was satisfyingly knackered.

‘GoodGym is clearly unlike any conventional gym, but it also distinguishes itself from other voluntary opportunities by
virtue of the range of organisations they work with’

GoodGym Members

The other type of session that GoodGymmers can take part in are Community Missions. These aren’t run by Anji, but by other volunteers who have been trained by GoodGym, and tend to last for a couple of hours, with participants dropping in and out. For example, twice a month they work with Urban Green Newcastle, helping them to maintain green spaces across the city. Anji explains that ‘these tasks don’t always have that separate fitness element. The workout really is the actual physical task that they’re doing, so weeding, or pulling up old trees or painting’.

GoodGym is clearly unlike any conventional gym, but it also distinguishes itself from other voluntary opportunities by virtue of the range of organisations they work with. I hadn’t heard of many of them before I scoured the website, and doing so felt like discovering an entirely new side of Newcastle. Anji tells me that she felt the same when she started the group, ‘I’m born and bred Geordie,’ she says. ‘Perhaps it’s just me having quite a charmed life and not needing to know that these things existed, but it’s really opened my eyes to the amazing things that people can do and that people are already doing. It’s definitely been an education for me as well.’

For anyone who feels they’d like to do more in their community, but are concerned about how much they can commit, the flexibility of signing up to individual sessions at GoodGym is ideal. And, unsurprisingly, the people are lovely (I can vouch for it). ‘I think the volunteering is incredible, it gives people that chance to really do things that matter in communities,’ Anji explains, ‘but i really think it’s the connections that are built around that that make people come back.

‘You can’t help but feel good when you’re moving. If you’re doing that with people who are likeminded, and you are also doing something in your community, you get a real sense of reward.’

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