It’s 6pm on a dark January Monday evening at a sports centre in Bexleyheath, south east London. And it’s time for Bexley Mencap’s regular weekly keep fit session for people with Learning Disabilities.
Initially set up nearly four years ago, as a pilot with England Athletics (click here to read more), Bexley Mencap now runs regular physical activity classes specially for members which combines fun with fitness. Some members have been with the club since it started. They see it as a regular part of their weekly activity and a chance to get out and meet other members socially as well as, of course, helping to keep fit.
Others have only just joined as part of a Together We Can new Healthy Lifestyles project to promote physical activity and better diet management, funded by the charity London Catalyst. New members, Luke and Emmanuel didn’t know each other before they joined up. Now they are firm friends and have also even started taking part in their local 5k parkrun on Saturday mornings.
Long standing member, Matt, who also has speech disabilities, now has over 50 parkruns under his belt and has also run two competitive 10k races with the help of Bexley AC. He’s even been received a Spirt of parkrun nomination!
Matt’s mentor, Nick Marsden, is a member of Bexley AC, and volunteer with Bexley Mencap, and supports the Keep Fit Group, together with keep fit trainer, Michelle Fox. Bexley AC sponsored Nick’s Leadership in Running Fitness (LiRF) course and have been quick to support and include local disability groups in community running events.
Over 30 Bexley Mencap members and carers also took part in a 3k Fun Run in July 2017 organised by Bexley Athletic Club who also sponsored Bexley Mencap by giving a donation back to the Learning Disabilities Healthy Lifestyle programme. (click here to read more)
A few words about the members, themselves. Chris comes from his part time job as a school caretaker. Aysha, who attends with her sister, Amber, works as a volunteer in a charity shop. Luke works for Sainsburys, while Louise is a nursery assistant. Some attend day centres while for others, the keep fit group might be one of the only time in the week they have to get out and mix socially in a safe and supportive environment.
Most didn’t take part in any form of organised physical activity before they joined. They cite, cost and not being able to easily follow the joining instructions or keep up with the complicated workouts as the main reasons. It can also be daunting when you don’t know anyone and find it difficult to mix socially as with any group or activity.
The activities themselves are designed to be fun and friendly and work on developing core ABCs - agility, balance and co-ordination. Some of the exercises help to concentrate the mind as well as exercising the body as activities are gradually built up and developed over time.
Box exercise is a particular favourite and when the gloves go on there’s no holding back and the pads get a right pounding. Another favourite involves dodging a giant inflatable ball. That’s helped, no doubt, by lots of slalom running between cones and jumping over and round an obstacle course.
Group members help each other and the various exercises are enthusiastically greeted. David always likes to do an extra lap of the sports hall after the others have finished – claiming he’s miscounted.
But the beauty is that the activity and enthusiasm doesn’t just stop in the Sports Hall. Two Bexley Mencap members, Sarah and Adam won silver and bronze swimming medals in August at the Special Olympics in Sheffield.
The splash and dash of the Colour Run in summer has been a favourite activity and many Bexley Mencap members not just of the Keep Fit group, also took part in the recent 5k Santa Dash in December 2017.