From living in a tent in the woods to being employed by the City Council as a Fitness Advisor, life really does begin at 40 for Tony!
Tony who has been profoundly deaf since the age of seven, was referred to Nottingham Community Housing Association through the Deaf Society two years ago. His Support Worker Pete explains, “Through no fault of his own, Tony found himself living rough after being kicked out of his shared housing by his housemates. Pete worked alongside Tony to make sure he was receiving the right support and ended up getting sole tenancy of the property. “It meant I could see my daughter again”, says Tony.
Although Tony is no stranger to a gym, having trained on and off throughout his life; the experience of homelessness left him feeling defeated.
“When the opportunity came up to access the leisure facilities in a free three month trial, it was like a light bulb moment for me. I suffer from anxiety when I’m out and about so I started to use the sauna to wind down or would let off some steam in the gym where I’m surrounded by my medication – my dumbells!
“My dad was diagnosed with Cancer and I lost him in October. I’ve learnt how to talk about my feelings and share my own experiences of mental health disorders and cancer with others – so I’ve also gained some counselling skills too!
“I trained to become an instructor a while ago but missed out on a qualification by a couple of points. When the Instructability course was mentioned to me, it seemed like another chance and meant I could transform my troubles from grief into drive.
Tony admits it was difficult to go back to a learning environment when he started training at Clifton Leisure Centre but found it helped his mental health and built his confidence. “Putting yourself in uncomfortable situations helps you to grow mentally, which is just as important as physical fitness.
“I had a great tutor who waited for me to write up my notes and gave me visual handouts to help with the learning process so it was a bit of a blessing.
“After I finished my training I had a three month placement as a volunteer but there was no guarantee of a job at the end of the 12 weeks, so I could have stopped, but I continued to volunteer.
“I’m on the payroll now but I still keep my voluntary shifts – I’m paid spiritually for that!”
“The best thing about it is I can go up to and talk to anyone now, that wouldn’t have happened before. I’ve got disabled clients being referred to me. Being able to relate to and help others – it makes everything I’ve been through all worth it.”
Tony is also having a huge positive impact on others. When the Instructability scheme reopened, he referred people to it who he thought would also benefit. “Rob doesn’t like new environments and would have panic attacks”, Tony explains, “so I would help diffuse situations when I realised he was about to have an attack by taking him outside and getting him to breathe to open up his airways.”
He is also getting some sign-ups from patients being discharged from Highbury Hospital. “One of the guys I’ve been helping is thinking about becoming a Personal Trainer.”
Tony cites the support he’s received from the team at Ken Martin as being a key part of his success.
“The team have been really understanding and have allowed me to swap shifts when I’ve needed to because of my mental health and were really flexible in allowing me to complete my 1-2-1 in house qualification.
“It’s very difficult to see an opportunity when you are depressed or get anxious,” says Tony. “But there’s lots of things you can do. Talk to people around you, you might find someone in a similar boat. Walking can help by giving you thinking space. Oh and anyone with a dog, it’s like a gym on legs!
“Finding a gym buddy will help motivate you but group activities is another option worth trying. Classes get your endorphins going and you push yourself a bit harder. I think routine is important, but don’t beat yourself up. Plus, sometimes it’s just about coming along, just being here is an achievement.
“People can have a negative view of the gym but Ken Martin and other council leisure centres are so friendly. We even adjust the music to make sure we cater for different groups depending on the time of day.”
Tony added, “For some it’s a social experience, others it’s a lifestyle choice. Whatever the reason, it’s important to look after your heart and general well-being and just be happy.”
A trial partnership is helping up-skill Nottingham City Council employees to make exercise in Nottingham City more inclusive.
Community Activators have been working across the city for the past sixteen months, signposting people with a disability or long term illness into activities in the community or at one of the city’s eight leisure centres. One of these people, Kelly Evans, has embarked on a newly launched Level 3 Qualification delivered by HFE, the UK’s leading provider of personal training courses and fitness qualifications.
The Level 3 Award in Programming and Supervising Exercise with Disabled Clients, or simply Level 3 Exercise for Disabled Clients, is nationally recognised and awarded by one of the industry’s oldest awarding bodies, YMCA Awards. This means there’s a wealth of opportunity for Kelly to use this course up and down the country .
As one of the very few providers in the country who deliver this course, HFE are well placed to support Nottingham City Council in this new venture to up-skill their staff and serve a demographic that is currently greatly under-represented. Reports suggest that 1 in 5 people in the UK has a disability, which equates to nearly 11 million people. Unfortunately, only 18% of disabled adults undertake physical activity lasting longer than 30 minutes a week and this is compared to 38% of non-disabled adults.
Disability sport is highly important to Nottingham. Developing disability sport is a significant priority in the city’s Sport and Physical Activity Strategy (2015-2019); outlined in this is the aspiration to become ‘the fastest growing city for disability sports (physical activity) participation’.
To engage more people living with a disability or long term health condition, Nottingham City Council have taken bold steps in improving accessibility to leisure centres and enhancing the existing swim, gym and fitness offers to be more inclusive. To add to this, leisure centre staff have also taken part in some entry level disability confidence training to enable them to better advise customers who might require additional support.
Clearly, even more can and should be done to encourage disabled people to exercise and that’s why HFE have partnered with Nottingham City Council’s Active Nottingham to help up-skill staff and provide even more inclusive opportunities across their eight leisure centres.
Speaking about the potential of this partnership, Colin Eley said: ‘Working with HFE means we’re able to equip our staff with a more comprehensive knowledge-base to better support people accessing our service. We aim to empower citizens living with a disability or long term condition to feel confident when accessing our services while forming sustainable physical activity habits.”
Kelly, whose Community Activator role covers the Bulwell, Bulwell Forest, Bestwood and Basford wards, is the first Active Nottingham member of staff to take part in the new initiative, and she outlined how excited she was to start a new fitness journey:
“Having always been involved in fitness and sport I am very aware of the mental and physical benefits that exercise can have on people, regardless of where they currently are in their fitness journey.
“I am currently working with individuals who want to become more physically active but who find their long term conditions or disabilities a barrier. For them this means sessions that are perceived as a ‘mainstream’ exercise for all are not always suitable for their needs.
“During this course I am looking forward to learning new skills and broadening my knowledge base so I can better support individuals who have a broader variety of needs with exercise . I am hoping to be able to share this experience and outcomes from the course with other members of my team, so we can adapt and provide a more suitable/focused service for individuals with long term conditions or disabilities in the future.”
The council has just launched a new campaign – It’s For Me – to provide information about the accessibility, suitability and affordability of leisure provision in the city, reassuring citizens that they will be adequately provided for when they visit the council’s leisure facilities and take part in activities.