Welcome to Portsmouth GoodGym –  where you can get fit and make a big difference to your community

From hanging curtains for elderly people to shovelling compost for community groups so they can grow vegetables, GoodGym helps people get fit while also helping those in need.

Saturday, 2nd February 2019, 10:14 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 10:06 pm
Members of GoodGym Portsmouth running through St Mary's Church, Fratton, on their way to a task

The premise of the movement is members run to the places where they are volunteering.

Not only does GoodGym have a huge positive impact on the lives of runners but also on the scores of people they help.

Having launched in May 2018 with two-year funding from Portsmouth City Council, GoodGym Portsmouth has already achieved a huge amount.

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Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon Jackson with GoodGym Portsmouth founder Katie Carew-Robinson

In just eight months there have been 41 group runs, 14 coach visits to spend time with a lonely or isolated older person, and four mission runs to help an older person with a one-off task like moving furniture, gardening or changing a lightbulb.

Eileen Whicker, 81, who lives in Southsea, is registered blind and thought there was no help out there for her – until she came across GoodGym that is.

The pensioner had two people run to help her with some gardening tasks in October – something she had been struggling with for a long time.

'They were absolutely magic,’ Eileen says.

Councillor Lee Mason, Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, with GoodGym Portsmouth members after working at Fratton Community Centre.

‘They came in with their hands and hearts open and said "what can we do to help?"

‘They cut back the ivy and offered to pull up weeds. I was really touched. They didn't have to do that. I was really delighted with them.'

GoodGym also helps organisations. Manor Infant School and Nursery has reaped the rewards of the arrival of GoodGym in the city.

Headteacher Ashley Howard says: ‘The GoodGym team have been fantastic.

‘Their energy, commitment and collaboration to help our school is amazing.

‘They have been to our school three times now and have completed a range of tasks such as tidying our garden space, digging, weeding, clearing leaves, painting and tidying our PE cupboard.

‘I enjoy taking part in the group runs / tasks too. 

‘Being part of this group keeps you fit while doing good and you get to meet great people.

Another to benefit has been Hilsea Lido. Chairwoman Sabrina Richards saysd: ‘GoodGym has helped us with painting, gardening and watering the plants. Katie Carew-Robinson and the GoodGym runners are a wonderful addition to our team.

‘During one visit they planted shrubs that had been kindly donated by Spinnaker Waste and Mount Folly Nurseries. It’s amazing how quickly they made a difference.’

As well as helping numerous individuals and organisations, GoodGym has also had a huge positive affect on its runners.

Angela Chick, 33, runs with GoodGym Portsmouth and says: ‘I am self-employed and it can be a lonely business working from home all the time.

‘I started running and was looking to meet other runners.

‘When I found out about GoodGym it sounded perfect. Doing good deeds and getting fit while doing it has been great. It’s been brilliant for both mind and body – I got into running for my mental health more than anything else.

‘Coming together every week to see the friends I’ve made through GoodGym has become a highlight of my week.

‘The help we’ve provided around the community gives me a real boost as well. 

‘I can’t wait to do more good with GoodGym this year.’

GoodGym Portsmouth completed almost 500 good deeds by 87 individual runners in 2018, racking up 3,000 miles between them.

Community projects they've visited on group runs have included Naomi House, Hilsea Lido, Portsmouth Foodbank, PARCS (Portsmouth Abuse and Rape Counselling Service), Hope House Hostel, Buckland Community Centre and several schools.

Katie Carew-Robinson, run leader for GoodGym Portsmouth, says: ‘I'm blown away by what we achieved in 2018 given that we didn't launch until May.

‘It's been lovely to welcome so many different faces who all want to combine exercise with helping their community.

‘The feedback from projects and older residents that we've helped makes it all worthwhile and those taking part get a huge sense of satisfaction.

‘We're keen to achieve even more in 2019 and are always on the lookout for new people to join us. You don't have to commit to coming every week. If your New Year's resolution is to get fitter then this is a much nicer way to do it than fighting someone for the last treadmill in a busy gym.

‘We're also keen to hear from organisations who would like us to visit to help with tasks such as painting, weeding, clearing or sorting that can have a positive effect on residents and the wider community.’

Councillor Matthew Winnington, cabinet member for health, wellbeing and social care at Portsmouth City Council, said: ‘I'm thrilled by what GoodGym has accomplished in 2018 and am pleased that it's something we've been able to support. I'd like to thank everyone who has taken part to date and congratulate them on some of the great things they've achieved at such a variety of projects.

‘It's lovely to see an initiative which encapsulates health, care and community so well. I know that many taking part have dramatically improved their fitness and are more motivated to continue taking part due to the community element.

‘It's also wonderful to see older residents benefitting so much from the visits they get from GoodGym runners. I hope they welcome even more runners in 2019 and can continue to complete good deeds across the city.’

Focussing energy on good deeds

GoodGym arose out of a frustration with normal gyms which the founders believe are a ‘waste of energy and human potential’.  

After a year of testing and developing ideas in 2008 the project was submitted to the Social Innovation Camp – a competition to create new businesses and projects that use the web to achieve a social goal. 

It rapidly developed before going on to be run with the London Legacy Development Company in 2012 to expand the project to the boroughs surrounding the Olympic Park.

Over 2013 and 2014 as GoodGym continued to expand into new areas, it increasingly started to rely on donations from its runners to cover costs.

With its mantra of preventing loneliness and isolation, as well as promoting fitness, it began to be commissioned by local authorities and the NHS.

Goodgym now operates in 47 locations across the UK – from the north to the south – and has carried out more than 125,000 good deeds – and counting.

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of the council, says: ‘I think it is a wonderful mixture of people keeping fit but also volunteering to do practical things to help the community.

‘I would encourage everybody to get involved.’

GoodGym Portsmouth meets every Wednesday at 6.15pm at Fratton Community Centre.

For more information visit goodgym.org/areas/portsmouth. Organisations who would like GoodGym to visit them can make a request via: goodgym.org/request-a-task.

GoodGym volunteers tackle loneliness and isolation

The ethos of GoodGym members is that there are many neglected tasks and people who need their energy more than gyms. 

With more than one million people aged 65 and over admitting to always or often feeling lonely and 17 per cent of those living alone seeing family and friends less than once a week, GoodGym decided to step in.

Beneficiary Joan Boulter, 87, summed up the predicament of many elderly. ‘With ageing you lose a lot of friends. It's really sad, and it does affect your quality of life. Loneliness is difficult to cope with,’ she said.

GoodGym offers a model of volunteering that brings together volunteers and runners, believing this concept will be more sustainable as it ‘fits into our lives’ and is easier to commit to for the longer term, making it easier to keep going’.