Offering an alternative to traditional gym culture, Bristol Co-operative Gym was set up as an inclusive, non-judgemental space free from assumptions about identity and appearance. It received support in its early stages from The Hive.
We’re all meant to be getting fitter yet despite national guidelines and increased awareness of the health benefits of physical activity, the vast majority of people in the UK (nearly 80%) are still not participating in physical activity.
Many people find joining a traditional gym isn’t the answer and can be put off by the competitive environment and often macho culture. It can feel judgmental and intimidating for beginners who can feel self-conscious. They are often too expensive, not accessible or unable to accommodate specific needs.
According to Sport England, at least 12 million women say they want to do more sport and physical activity, but often it’s difficult to fit this around packed lives, finding someone to look after the kids or having the confidence to go alone.
That's where Bristol Co-operative Gym can help. Tucked away in a fairly deprived area of Bristol in Lawrence Hill, this gym is offering an alternative to traditional gym culture.
In just a few months, as a result of the support it received through The Hive, Bristol Co-operative Gym recruited more than 50 members of all ages, physical ability and socio-economic background. Gym users welcome the holistic approach and benefit from a mutually supportive and safe environment that helps them improve their fitness levels at their own pace.
A typical session will involve being greeted by a designated person, introduced to how it works, taken through your paces and then paired with another attendee. Members then follow an individual fitness programme, using simple but effective weight training equipment.
Guy Lochhead, a qualified weightlifting coach and founder member, is on hand to offer motivation and guidance in a relaxed and nurturing environment. He first had the idea in 2014.
“Working in the fitness industry can mean precarious work, it’s all freelance and on a self‑employed basis and that can feel quite isolating. The mutual support of working as a co-op, jointly owned by nine like-minded people has been incredible,” he says.
“We all share very different backgrounds including art therapy, making art, gardening, working in an energy co-op, computer security, inspecting hospitals, organising workers unions and support work but the common theme is a dislike of the usual culture of gyms.
“We are very interested in making the gym accessible and useful to people with impairments or helping older people to improve their fitness levels. We’ve just heard that we have been successful in receiving funding from Bristol Ageing Better, which is part of Age UK Bristol and we are looking forward to delivering 16 taster tailored sessions for a group of older people in the autumn.”
The gym has has a fantastic response from its users and members. “Bristol Co-operative Gym is a different way of doing a gym. It’s fun and supportive. There are no mirrors and the emphasis is on you achieving your goals in a safe and friendly environment,” says member Paul.
Leila, another member, is pleased she made the decision to join. “Bristol Co-operative Gym takes a holistic approach to training that has enabled me to feel stronger, healthier, happier and more comfortable in my body than I ever have done.”