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Developing inclusive gyms for all

Dbai686 Member Posts: 1 Connected

Director and marathon runner Ian Singleton has always been an exercise enthusiast. However, following an unexpected stroke and his slow recovery period, he struggled to find a gym that would accept him as a disabled user. Ian’s own experiences have led him and his good friend Richard Johns to begin developing their own inclusive gyms, which they hope will be rolled out across the UK. Today, they talk to us about their journey so far.

In 2014, I ran a Marathon in Dubai. Just a month later, I had a stroke. There were no initial warnings or symptoms whatsoever, but it left me paralysed on the right-hand side of my body and unable to speak. It was a complete shock to the system and changed my life in every way.

Following my return to the UK, I began recovery and saw minor improvements in my physical health. However, I knew that to improve my emotional wellbeing, I wanted to exercise and feel some of what I felt before. I set out to join a gym, in the hope of aiding my recovery.

What I didn’t know was that it would take six months and three different gyms before I found somewhere that would accept me as a member, because of my disability. I was turned away by staff who were worried about insurance: that I would have an accident and they would be held liable for it. And rather than working with me to avoid that happening, they sent me on my way. It left me feeling isolated, ostracised and disheartened that I didn’t have access to the same experiences as non-disabled people. Eventually I found a more community-based gym that would accept me, and they’ve done all that they can to make me feel welcome.

Gyms can be intimidating places for anybody. There’s an extraordinarily strong culture associated with going to the gym that can make a lot of people feel alienated, whether you’re disabled or non-disabled. My own experience in simply finding somewhere accessible led me to think “well, surely I’m not the only person with a disability who wants to be the member of a gym?”

So, Richard and I have set out to launch Fitable, with a vision to design and build a chain of accessible gyms across the UK. We want to create facilities in inclusive buildings in accessible locations, with particular attention given to how equipment is laid out and how people will move around the space. It’s especially important to us that the people working in our gyms have a very different attitude towards treating users as individuals. Staff should be equipped to develop programmes based on what users can do, not what they can’t do. They should provide a person-centred approach where people can set their own unique goals and work towards them, so they too can experience their own sense of accomplishment.

ian sitting down in front of TV camera with an image of himself showing up on the monitor

Going to the gym is about feeling good, not just physically but also mentally. We want to promote the social experience too, the benefits of creating a space inclusive for all, where everybody is welcome to socialise. Half the people in this country don’t know even one disabled person, so it was important to us that our gyms were inclusive of both disabled and non-disabled people. Above all, people should know that this will be the gym for everybody, whatever condition you have, whatever challenges you have, you are welcome here.

We’re still in the learning phase, so we’re keen to hear about your own experiences. What experiences have you had with gyms? What would make gyms more accessible to you? Let us know in the comments below!


  • Rhona
    Rhona Member Posts: 10 Courageous
    I had a heart attack two years ago. I was encouraged to join a gym after to keep up the exercises we were all given to help keep the heart healthy. All the other patients were given the details of their local council gyms who could charge about £2 a visit.

    However I'm in a wheelchair due to Multiple Sclerosis so the best I could hope for was a private gym which would cost many tens of pounds per visit. As a former dancer I have kept up the exercises myself with some leg weights I happen to have myself. 

    I'm also concerned about going to a gym as an accessible shower is essential for me with help from a carer.

    I'd also need my wheelchair to get between various items of equipment. I know that there are items of equipment that I can use while in my powered wheelchair which is vital for me. But it would be great if I could get up to leg strengthening weight machines and use these from my wheelchair.

  • Garza
    Garza Member Posts: 149 Pioneering
    more machines designed with wheelchair users in mind, for example my local gym only has one arm bike which is the only cardo machine I can use, this is popular with all gymgoers which sometimes means i cant use it

    I think staff with specialist knowledge would help too

    I hope your enterprise gets off the ground and is a success
  • wittygal1996
    wittygal1996 Posts: 13 Connected
    I’ve had good experiences with my local gym. Once a week I visit the leisure centre to use the gym with a friend. I focus on the equipment I can use safely and independently as well. I love using the exercise ball and mats in the gym as well. I wish you success. We need more inclusive gyms in Britain and have for a long time now if I’m being completely honest here. I also have a personal gym at home with a exercise ball and resistance bands plus a mat for floor work. 

  • siobhan1
    siobhan1 Member Posts: 77 Pioneering
    I've just visiting my local leisure centre as part of a Healthy Life referral. I think it's great! There are accessible showers, toilets, changing rooms, hoists for people who need them. The staff actually encourage me to do classes and adapt them for me. They showed me how to use machines with my wheelchair such as hand bikes and they will pull down the weights so I can reach them. They help with anything I need so that I can use the gym like everyone else. The machines are all modern such as cross trainers with seats rather than standing ones (not sure what they're called). It's my first time visiting a gym in 4 years and apart from comments by other service users who don't understand how I can visit a gym but need a wheelchair, my experience has only been positive so far.
  • Richard_Scope
    Richard_Scope Posts: 3,115

    Scope community team

    No gym would allow me to join. All cited 'health and safety'. I have a multi-gym at home which isn't ideal but better than nothing. Specialised gym equipment for wheelchair users is sooooo expensive! It is financially unfeasible for most. I wish you nothing but success in this endeavour @Dbai686

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  • Topkitten
    Topkitten Member Posts: 1,285 Pioneering
    Unfortunately the number of disabled people able to make use of a gym (to any real extent) is a minority of a minority and is therefore likely to receive little support from most gym's. We are all supposed to be able to function properly and want to push ourselves beyond unreasonable limits to make the use of a gym worthwhile (or so most of the gym fraternity believe) and spending a large amount providing specialist equipment for those that "shouldn't be there anyway" is unlikely to be a popular move when so much other and better equipment could fit in the same space for "real gym users".

    "I'm on the wrong side of heaven and the righteous side of hell" - from Wrong side of heaven by Five Finger Death Punch.
  • DoriFish
    DoriFish Member Posts: 45 Courageous
    You are our hero @Dbai686
    I pray will take off & spread all over the country
    To have access to a gym that understands & support people that want to help them selves is truly fantastic & unique
  • Nemrac
    Nemrac Member Posts: 2 Listener
    I joined a local gym through recommendation by the Nurse because of being over weight and high colestral. Unfortunately I was refused a disability badged because of being able to walk two bus lengths, able to bend my knees, lift my arms up and stand for so many minutes. I do not use the recommended gym as it is too far to park away from the building as the car park is full and I am too tired to walk so far after the gym exercise. So I go with my daughter to another gym which has the air con on full blast making it too cold like an ice box, has a long walk from changing rooms to the gym and the swimming pool is always cold and no where to sit in reception as my beck starts to become very painful and I need to sit down to help with easing the pain a little to enable me to walk to the car. I hope your gym will come our way.
  • Nemrac
    Nemrac Member Posts: 2 Listener
    Sorry I forgot to mention I have a slipped disc and there is no liquid to cushion the disc. I get in pain when walking, sitting and standing for a long time. 


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