Learning from GoodGym

Published on: 10 March 2020

An article in The Big Issue headed ‘Changemakers’ caught Susanna Gunner’s eye. It described a venture called GoodGym which, inspiringly, links exercise with social action. It doesn’t have a specifically Christian foundation, yet it resonates in powerful ways with gospel language, kingdom concepts. She was intrigued and wanted to know more.

The first GoodGym was piloted in London in 2008 out of frustration with normal gyms… Suppose the lone treadmill-runner, isolated by earphones, pounding away for hours, pounded the streets instead and suppose they ran to somewhere, to someone, for a very particular purpose? What if all the energy generated in gyms could instead be channelled into society’s many neglected tasks and individuals? GoodGym’s aim is to get people off treadmills and into their communities.

Steven Hitcham, the man at the helm of GoodGym Norwich, summed it up for me, “We are a community of runners who get fit by doing good”, he said, “and we do this in three ways.” First, he described the Group Runs he organises each Monday night. Meeting at The Forum in Norwich, around 40 people run en bloc to help a local organisation with some pressing task.

The night before I met Steven, it had been Baby Bank Norfolk, whose donated items for needy families had desperately needed sorting and rationalising. Another night might, for instance, see the group running to organise a games event in a care home or tackle a community gardening project. Churches with specific one-off projects have also been supported.

Then there are the “Missions”. After a referral from an organisation such as Age UK, a couple of runners run to help with one-off practical tasks that older people can no longer manage themselves. Once they’ve changed Mr H’s lightbulb or moved Mrs M’s table back into place, they each run home again, having helped someone out and maybe experienced a different running route too.

Lastly, Steven told me about “Coach Runs”, GoodGym’s very specific response to the prevalence of loneliness in our society. A runner is linked up with someone who’s feeling isolated and simply runs to visit them each week to chat over a cuppa. You might expect that the ‘coach’ in question would be the younger, fitter person making the visit but that isn’t the way GoodGym sees it at all. It is the lonely person who is the coach, the strong bonds between the two becoming the motivating force behind the weekly run.

GoodGym Norwich has over 300 members from across our region. Walking groups are in the pipeline too but even for those who neither walk nor run, there is perhaps wider potential here. Participation is based on frequent low-impact activities that are integrated usefully into runners’ lives.

What might that teach our churches about working with volunteers? And are there other ways we might imitate the GoodGym concept? How, for instance, when tempted to plod away on the safe treadmill of faith lives as we’ve always known them, might we be inspired by GoodGym’s wonderfully outward-looking attitude to find new and imaginative ways of engaging with the wider community? What are we called to be if not change-makers?

www.goodgym.org/norwich

 


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