Unabridged version: Good Gym
Good Gym, Tower Hamlets, London
The Good Gym
Tower Hamlets Primary Care Trust (PCT), less than £10,000
About the project
The Good Gym pairs runners with isolated less-mobile people in their area. Runners jog to their house, deliver a newspaper or help with shopping, have a brief chat and then continue their jog. It helps people get fit by providing a good reason to go for a run and it helps the person being visited by providing them with some friendly human contact and a newspaper or piece of fruit. The Good Gym is for anyone who exercises, would like to exercise or would like to help.
The big idea
The director of the Good Gym was frustrated at the levels of energy wasted in the gym. He also recognised that there was a lot of isolation and loneliness among older residents in the borough. He felt that if people are already running past someone's house it would be easy to check in on them and help with shopping or pick up a newspaper.
Volunteer runners sign up for one run a week for three months at a minimum. The average retention of runners is eight months which is better than average retention at gyms. The volunteers visit older people and bring people newspapers or fruit.
Setting up the project
The director first tested the idea of the Good Gym to see if it was a good idea. He approached his friend's parent's ex-builder, an older resident called Terry, and asked if he would be happy to be part of the project. The director started to visit Terry a couple of times a week and has now done so for three years. From this he worked out what worked well: short regular visits built around a runner's routine. He recognised that the experience of the runner is just as important as that of the older person if you want to sustain participation.
Once the idea had been trialled, the Good Gym set up a website. The director attended the Social Innovation Camp - an event which brings together people and tools to develop web based solutions for social problems in 48 hours. The camp helped the director to develop a business plan for the Good Gym.
The Good Gym attracts most of its volunteers through its website and through Twitter. Most volunteers are people that have not had much experience in volunteering, but have wanted to volunteer and have not found time to do so. Twitter also has the added advantage of being a free platform from which to publicise.
The Good Gym also targeted older people through day centres, which make referrals. Older residents were asked if they would like to access the service. They receive a friendly weekly visit and a weekly newspaper. The Good Gym targets those people that need it the most: the most lonely, most isolated and generally immobile.
The main challenge in setting up the project was to be taken seriously by local agencies. The director notes that it took a long time to persuade people that the idea was a good one. This was made easier by persistence and building up a group of people that could start to talk about their experiences and tell real stories about their involvement in the project.
All volunteers are CRB-checked which is funded by the organisation. Other funds were needed to set up the company and the website. This funding was drawn from the Social Innovation Camp and 4ip - a digital innovation fund set up by Channel 4.
Impact of the project
The Good Gym has now been running since 2010. It currently facilitates just under 1,000 visits with 70 runners and 25 to 30 older people who live in Tower Hamlets.
Older people receive visits that they would not have received in the absence of the Good Gym. In addition, runners are more motivated to stick to their schedule. The director believes that older people's wellbeing has improved as they are generally happier and positive about the future, feel more useful and are mentally stable.
The Good Gym haw started to use the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing scale to measure the impact on older residents, which will feed into their evaluation.
During the past year Good Gym haw also helped to clear land for a community garden, move rubble, tidy up community centres, shift soil on allotments, help a school to make a new vegetable patch, move books around a library and decorate community centres for Christmas.
Good Gym has welcomed the opportunity to experiment at a small scale and develop the project. In addition, it has been able to respond to the needs of the group, altering aspects of the project that are not working while sticking to the core ideas of the project. The use of the internet has been essential to reach out to potential volunteers.
The organisation appreciates the importance of continuity of staff, which is particularly problematic when funding is limited.
Top tips to replicate this project in your locality
1. Give it a go: don't put pressure on yourself by thinking that you need a lot of resources. Try out a project anyway and see what works.
2. Be flexible and open to people who can help make your idea better. Try to take ideas on board while sticking to your core ideals.
3. It will be much slower than you initially anticipate to get the project off the ground, but manage your time to allow you to stick at it.
Where to next?
The Good Gym would like to expand massively. It is looking at its web infrastructure to allow expansion of the project at reduced costs. The Good Gym has had some interest from Barcelona, New York, Chicago and Australia, but the director is concerned that these have not been able to scale up fast enough. The Good Gym anticipates continued involvement in international projects and will continue to co-ordinate the project, but with the support of a local coordinator who would be trained.
15 September 2011