A new community-owned gym opened in one of the most deprived wards in the UK in August 2015 and by the end of its first day 175 local people had paid for six months membership. The Well IN gym in the Broughton area of Salford in Greater Manchester knows what is important to its local customers: a good range of gym equipment, a convenient location, and low prices that don’t tie you in to a contract. People without banking facilities can join and pay per day, week or month. Volunteers can gain qualifications.
The new gym is one of the projects of Involved Salford, a community benefit society set up in February 2014 to co-ordinate the efforts of local people to improve the lives of and opportunities for the residents of East Salford. The society has over 80 members.
Nick Burke, the gym project co-ordinator, said [as reported in the Salford Star]: “The gym came out of someone coming to one of our meetings saying he had done a fitness instructor course when he was in prison and no one would take him on. The whole thing has been designed by local people. We could have had it in a church hall but our members said they wanted it to be a proper gym so we had to find a space for it.”
The space they found was on the ground floor of the Vibe, a mixed housing, retail and community development built about 10 years ago. The large empty unit had never been used and still contained the original builder’s rubble. With help from The Co-operative Loan Fund, Involved Salford, has turned it into a vibrant community gym.
Dave Fraser, one of the founders of Involved Salford, said: “There was quite a bit of building work and fitting out to do, and of course buying the equipment. I want to emphasise that we could not have done it without The Co-operative Loan Fund. Ian Taylor [the loan appraiser] was incredibly supportive.”
Some of the other projects run by Involved Salford include a volunteer centre, womens group, job club, lunch club and catering academy. For most of this year the society has provided a healthy wholesome lunch free of charge to 100 people a week at four venues in East Salford. Due to huge demand the volunteers are planning to cater for 200 a week in the autumn. The volunteers can gain catering and food hygiene qualifications.
Involved Salford is a good example of how locally based co-operative ventures can succeed in making small but significant improvements in communities where remotely-controlled regeneration scheme struggle to make a difference.
Dave Fraser said: “Maybe it’s not the amount of money that is going to change this place, maybe it’s the way it’s operated. The state always needs to help but I think there is an issue of how it does so. As a co-operative we believe in local people helping themselves. The thing that has blighted Broughton is big government million pound programmes that run for a few year and then finish.
“We are run by local people for local people and want to try and change the way things work in the local community. The idea of Involved Salford is to help people start something.”