GoodGym began from my own frustration with gyms. They just seemed like a massive waste of energy; people peddling away on bikes that don’t go anywhere, running around without moving and lifting things that didn’t really need moving.
Apart from the waste of human effort they’re also a massive waste of electricity (they’re some of the most energy intensive of all buildings) and also they don’t seem like much fun. They separate you from the world and from other people. They’re also expensive and most people with gym memberships don’t really use them that much.
It seemed ripe for some kind of disruption. At the same time I was finding myself back in London and not really exercising. I’d stopped playing basketball and lacked motivation. I was also finding out more and more about the way that isolation and loneliness are affecting older people and particularly so in cities.
I set up GoodGym to try to combine these two problems in some kind of solution. In doing so, I stumbled upon a third problem: the search for some way of connecting to the world a bit more. The New York Times published a piece which I think describes how people now are lacking connection to some of the most important things about being alive. The gym for me symbolises how we have lost touch with some of the things that provide meaning; some of the connections and aspects of community that have been eroded as we move to cities and don’t have time to say hello to everyone we pass anymore.
The idea in the first place was an alternative to the gym that didn’t waste the energy. We started running to do good deeds around town. Now we operate in 6 London Boroughs and Bristol and have 500 members supporting hundreds of older people and community projects. We pair runners with isolated older people to whom they run and make deliveries. They swap a newspaper for stories of what the area was like before they lived there and see each other once a week. On our group runs, 30 people run through the streets to shift earth for community gardens or to clear derelict land. The experience is vigorous, messy, sweaty and hard work. It’s exciting because you explore new parts of the city, it exciting because you meet new people and at the same time you’re exercising harder than you might normally.
GoodGym is a way of connecting with some of the fundamentals of life and making a difference to those around you. It’s also about doing something meaningful that fits in with your life. It’s a legitimate alternative to the gym but connects you instead of separating you.
I think GoodGym is essential infrastructure for cities, it’s about rebuilding many things that existed before we all lived in cities. Before escalators and lifts and tubes we would have had to have a reasonable amount of exercise in our lives. We didn’t need gyms. We also used to live close to our aging parents or grandparents and could look after them. We didn’t need social care to the same extent. In doing so it seems we also had more chances to contribute to other people’s lives, as part of our own life, not as specific and separate activity, and that helped give meaning to our lives. GoodGym is a way of rebuilding some of these things and making it a normal part of our lives again.
I wonder what other aspects of our lives could use this kind of thinking. How else can we find exciting ways for us to reengage positively with those around us in a way that lets us get on with our lives in the ways that we want to?
Ivo Gormley //
Phone // 0203 432 3920
Mobile // 07903311844
Twitter // @goodgym
www // goodgym.org
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