Get fit while doing good with Goodgym

PUBLISHED: 09:27 10 August 2018 | UPDATED: 09:45 10 August 2018

Runners taking part in a Goodgym Ipswich session PICTURE: Emily Cotton

Runners taking part in a Goodgym Ipswich session PICTURE: Emily Cotton


Goodgym combines the ideas of a running club and a volunteering group allowing people in towns and cities across the country to make a positive impact in their communities.

Goodgym Ipswich runners completing their good deeds PICTURE: Emily CottonGoodgym Ipswich runners completing their good deeds PICTURE: Emily Cotton

There’s no doubt you’ve been told that participating in exercise can do wonders for making you feel good. Not only does it get you fit and healthy, but it releases endorphins in the body lifting your mood almost instantly. But what if your exercise session was not only good for you but good for others too? Well with Goodgym this is exactly the case.

The Goodgym concept started in 2009 in London and has a unique approach to building community cohesion, promoting fitness and reducing social isolation. During 90 minute sessions volunteers run together to community initiatives to help out with everyday tasks. These range from painting fences for schools and pruning community gardens to carrying out odd jobs such as cleaning and tidying for charities and isolated older individuals. Nine years later it now has over 8000 members and has logged over 33,000 good deeds in 45 areas of the UK.

GoodGym Ipswich launched in September last year (the Norwich group launched a little earlier in June 2017), runs in partnership with Suffolk County Council and begins every Monday evening at the University of Suffolk’s Waterfront Building.

Meeting the Ipswich group for a session wasn’t my first experience with Goodgym as I’d taken part in a few sessions a couple of years ago in London, but when I first turned up as a newbie to the group I was both nervous and excited. Joining a new exercise group can be daunting for anyone, but thankfully I was welcomed with open arms into a group of all ages and all ability levels.

Emily during a Goodgym Ipswich session PICTURE: ArchantEmily during a Goodgym Ipswich session PICTURE: Archant

Ian Duggan is the Goodgym Ipswich coach. He says: “I became aware of Goodgym through my regular work role [as sport and leisure business development manager for Leisure World, Colchester] when the idea launched in Colchester about two years ago. I attended a couple of the group runs there but other commitments meant I couldn’t attend on a regular basis. I loved the concept of a social run and doing something worthwhile as the reason for running.

“When Suffolk County Council agreed to fund Goodgym in Ipswich as part of the Most Active County project, the lead trainer role for Ipswich was advertised. I am a keen runner, triathlete and a coach for Felixstowe Road Runners and am also qualified as a personal trainer, so I jumped at the opportunity.

“I really like that Goodgym gives you a reason to run. Also running as a group where there is a social element makes it more enjoyable. Everyone chatting away distracts from the physical side and makes it seem easier. We also have a motto of “no one gets left behind” so we always have a back marker to ensure no one runs on their own – quicker runners will wait and regroup at points along the route or double back to pick up the back marker every now and again.

“There are other aspects to Goodgym too – with coach runs elderly/ vulnerable people are paired up with a runner who commits to run to see them on a regular basis. We haven’t had any coaches paired up as yet but we have had a couple of runners carry out a mission in Ipswich.”

Goodgym Ipswich runners completing their good deeds PICTURE: Emily CottonGoodgym Ipswich runners completing their good deeds PICTURE: Emily Cotton

Ian introduced me to the group and then we headed out onto the waterfront to get ready to run. We warmed up, stretched and then, as the organisation we were helping for the evening Survivors In Transition was only 100 yards down the road, set off in the opposite direction taking a roundabout route including a lap of Alexandra Park.

When we arrived at Survivors in Transition after an approximate 1km run, it was all hands on deck to complete the volunteer work. Like many charities, Survivors in Transition does incredible work for those in need and relies on donations and volunteers to do so. Using the funds it does get to continually provide its services it relies on the kindness of volunteers for everyday jobs like cleaning. Grabbing vacuum cleaners, polish and cloths, everyone on the run scrubbed in to give the place a quick but thorough clean.

Whilst completing the task at hand, I asked Ian a bit more about the charities and organisations that the Ipswich group helps. Ian adds: “Part of my role as lead trainer is to source the tasks for the group runs. I have done this by developing a network of local contacts in charities and other community organisations. As we have done more tasks I have had organisations approach me with requests. I’d welcome contact from any organisations which has tasks we may be able to help with on a Monday evening - particularly indoor tasks for the autumn/ winter when the evenings are darker.”

During this time, I also got a chance to speak properly – as opposed to when we were trying to catch our breathe while running – to some of the others in the group about why they love getting involved each week. While donning blue rubber gloves and scrubbing a sink, I spoke with one of the group’s runners Lesley Rawlinson. She said: “I’ve been part of Goodgym Ipswich since the first run last September and over the past year I’ve completed 21 ‘good deeds. Our group has great camaraderie – we’re a pretty mixed bunch as far as running ability and fitness is concerned but we all just muck in on the tasks, whether it’s gardening (my favourite), painting, cleaning or anything else we’re needed to do. Ian always keeps the sessions pretty light hearted and fun and we don’t take ourselves too seriously, but it’s clear from the feedback we get from the charities we’re helping that what we’re doing is making a difference to them.

Ian Duggan, coach for Goodgym Ipswich PICTURE: Emily CottonIan Duggan, coach for Goodgym Ipswich PICTURE: Emily Cotton

“Goodgym is a great way to make keeping fit a bit more interesting. Sometimes the hardest part about going for a run can be lacing up your trainers and getting as far as the door, but I find that knowing I’m meeting up with friends and that what we’re doing will make a difference to members of our community who are less fortunate is hugely motivating.”

I also spoke to Steve Ager who joined GoodGym Ipswich when it was formed last summer too. He said: “A friend of mine who I used to run with persuaded me to join Goodgym. We had stopped running together some years ago mainly because we both changed jobs so it was good to have a regular chance to meet up again.

“No-one takes Goodgym too seriously as a running event, and we gain a lot of satisfaction from having given our time to carry out work for deserving organisations. To anyone thinking of joining I would encourage them to give us a try. It’s a great way to banish the Monday blues, have a lot of fun and gain a great sense of achievement and pride in whatever task we have been asked to do.”

After the volunteering work was done, the running work began again. Back on the waterfront we paired up and took turns running up and down the marina at an effort pace and a more relaxed, recovery pace.

Goodgym Ipswich runners after completing their good deeds PICTURE: Emily CottonGoodgym Ipswich runners after completing their good deeds PICTURE: Emily Cotton

“Each week’s run is worked out depending on the location of the task. Our longest runs have been just over five miles in total but most are around two to three miles.

“The longer runs and a task will take up all of the session time so we don’t then do an additional workout. On shorter runs I will devise a workout that we tend to do after the task as part of the run back to base. Some weeks the workout might be run based, for example intervals, and others it might be more of a circuit type session with various exercises like squats, lunges and planks.

“The aim is everyone does what they feel comfortable with, but allowing people to push themselves too as well as being a bit of fun and friendly competition.”

All in all my evening with Goodgym Ipswich was, in Ian’s words, a “relay good night!”

Runners taking part in a Goodgym Ipswich session PICTURE: Emily CottonRunners taking part in a Goodgym Ipswich session PICTURE: Emily Cotton

Goodgym has groups in both Ipswich and Norwich. The Ipswich group meets on Monday evenings at 6:30pm at the University of Suffolk’s Waterfront Building, while the Norwich group meets on Mondays at 6:15pm at The Forum. For more information or to register, visit the Goodgym website.

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