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From Fat to Fit (with friends and feel-good factor to boot)

Feeling sick after having consumed my body weight over Christmas I heaved myself off the sofa and declared to my housemates that now is the time to join a gym. Having also, unfortunately, spent my bank balance over Christmas I sat back down and meekly explained that Christmas excess will just have to be the new look for me. It was only after a money conscious housemate took pity on me and dragged me to a community gym just a two second walk from our house, that a world of possibilities was opened.

After a sneaky look around at the equipment and stumbling across a mammoth secret swimming pool, we decided to sign up. After a chat with an exceptionally friendly Carl, we found out to our delight that if you are a commitmophobe like me, you don’t even need to sign up to get a ludicrously good deal, at just £6.50 for a swim and gym session and £5.50 for use of the gym facilities. If you feel committing yourself is enough to push you into going regularly, a monthly pass is a steal at just £15. Go just once a week and you’ve got your money’s worth.

Feeling extremely pleased with ourselves for finding this hidden gem, we wanted to know more and Carl was more than happy to indulge. After finding out the centre is almost entirely run by volunteers and is surviving on just grants and donations, we felt a bit guilty for greedily lapping up the deals and not giving anything in return. Of course, Carl had the solution. That very evening the centre was holding a meeting for anyone interested in volunteering to pop in have a chat, share some ideas and learn a bit more about the centre.

I am inclined to selfishly keep all of this to myself, having found a gym, pool and voluntary experience all in one just round the corner, but I have decided that the amazing work this centre does cannot be hidden away. The centre used to be half a council leisure centre and half a community centre, but when the council decided running the centre was not making the papers, they decided to shut it down. After an amazing response from the community, the council agreed to sell its half to the community centre, which now runs the two conjoined centres on grants and donations, for ten pounds. The people who run this centre are not just running a gym and pool for locals but instead have created a hub of activity where anyone can make use of the space for anything from Pilates to drama clubs, Indian head massages to cookery and come out the other end having learned not just from the activities but from the diverse array of people they meet.

It is truly something to be celebrated, solid proof that a community can not only save a failing organization but also transform it into something even better. Not just the volunteers but also the centre users are all bursting with enthusiasm, and their friendliness makes you feel perfectly comfortable with all these new faces. Of course, everything wonderful has a downside (think of the calorie content of a hangover Portland pizza and pasta binge). The centre is just about keeping afloat on grants and, despite having come a long way in just four years, it is still trudging through the necessary improvements needed after the initial transition. The vast space in the basement is currently being used to store rubbish and an entire set of brand new gym equipment is sitting in storage, waiting to replace the older (albeit perfectly functional) equipment in use.

Why, you may ask, is rubbish being stored and brand new gym equipment gathering dust, when this centre is apparently so brilliant? This, readers, is where you come in. The centre does have an excellent team of volunteers but staff shortages mean they are restricted to vital duties such as reception, administration and lifeguarding, with improvement duties being neglected. If you are looking for a volunteering opportunity where you will not simply be a spare part but will be genuinely needed then this is exactly what you want. There are so many things the centre wants to improve but just does not have the manpower to do so. From fundraising to helping in the children’s activ8 courses, your time will be appreciated and you will come away feeling rewarded and positive. If you are interested in getting involved call 0115 941 2422 or just pop in to the centre on Willoughby Street, Lenton. There is a website but you may find it unhelpful, as it is underdeveloped and badly in need of improvement – by somebody just like yourself.

By Sophie Paley

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