Photo of a group of people smiling and sweaty, lifting weights

Being a co-op member

I’m in my early 60s.  For many years, I’ve been living with bouts of depression and anxiety.  As a result, my self esteem can be pretty shaky.  I’m overweight, but try not to obsess about ‘slimming’.  I also have arthritis in my hands and knees.  I’m on state benefits, so I don’t have much spare money.

At school, I was always in the group of 3 who were left at the end, waiting for one of the sporty groups to reluctantly take me.  (I didn’t even have the negative kudos of being the  last to be chosen!)

As an adult, I began to look for physical activities I could enjoy.  I quite liked swimming, but  chlorinated water and the palaver of getting changed afterwards put me off.  I got into cycling for a while but, after getting knocked off my bike by a careless driver and breaking my wrist, I lost confidence.  I also tried many different exercise classes with private trainers; and used commercial gyms.

About 3 years ago, in another spell of inactivity and frustration with that, I heard on the grapevine about Bristol Co-operative Gym.  The name itself appealed to me – it sounded welcoming.  So I went, and here’s how it compared.

At the commercial gym, I had been collared by a staff member and given the sales patter.  The 3 sessions a week subscription seemed the best value.  For someone who needs loads of encouragement, that turned out to be an impossible goal. It simply set me up for a sense of failure, and guilt over wasted money.  

After a cursory introduction to the equipment, I was left to get on with it.  Around me, everyone was working in a solitary way: grimly working on cardio machines or heaving huge weights.  They were in sleek lycra; I was in an old pair of joggers and a baggy tee shirt.  Some people came with a buddy, but it wasn’t seen as a social space for all users to interact.  The music pounded, wall mounted television screens flashed in lurid colours: for me, it was sensory overload.

If I felt I needed a bit of advice on my training, I had to grab a passing gym worker.  They would answer as briefly as possible, before moving on.  It had the same feel as asking where the eggs were in a supermarket.

When, one lunchtime, I stepped into the dilapidated hall where BCG were then based,  everyone smiled and greeted me.  I immediately felt I was in a supportive atmosphere.  The trainer came and checked whether I had any physical issues, or other support needs.

One of the attendees read out the ‘Co-op Gym’s Statement’.  It said explicitly that we were there to support each other in reaching our individual gaoals.  There was a reminder to avoid ‘body-shaming’.  Wow, so that was a thing that other people, too, thought was important?   The statement ended with an apparently joky phrase, but which encapsulates the gym’s ethos:

“…free to exercise in our own clothes, to our own music.”

All through that session, I felt motivated and encouraged to try doing new things with my body.  My bad memories of school PE, and trepidation about challenging myself, were still there – but at the same time, I felt safely held and valued.  Rather than feeling intimidated, I began to feel brave.  

That’s why I’m now a member of the Co-op, contributing to developing its future, and still loving my training sessions there.

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