Working together for a stronger community

Street Fitness : Suey

This story belongs to Suey.

Suey lives on Stonyfield. She is a larger than life character with a big personality and an even bigger heart. She has been delivering “street fitness” with her buddies Rene and Jacky since the middle of April.

Prior to lockdown Suey had been running classes at the community centre. Yoga, Stretch & Relaxation and fitness classes for people who are often new to exercise; haven’t exercised for a while or train with Suey a few times a week in the local council leisure centres. She had been wanting to get involved in the L30 centre for a good number of years and had found it unwelcoming before it changed the way it worked alongside the community. Since then, one of the things she’s been involved in was decorating a space within the community centre, turning it into a multi functional room to be used by the community and hired by herself for PT/small group sessions. So when the centre hosted a gathering to think together about responding to the pandemic Suey was there.

“We had some mad ideas at first. All the gyms/community halls had closed so I was out of work. We spoke about getting an ice cream van and turning it into a mobile shop selling essential items (bread, milk, toilet roll-haha if we could get any) with me following the van from street to street seeing if anybody wanted to join in a bit of exercise, and a member of staff walking around and speaking to residents, seeing if they needed support or help in anyway. Yeah mad idea but we didn’t know how to help, what to do or how to reach the community. As it was Easter there was an idea of being the Easter Bunny and delivering chocolate eggs to the estate. I wasn’t in a costume, I was driving my car with the tunes blasting, my back seat and boot full of Easter Eggs, refilling the bags for the bunnies. Seeing all the smiling faces of the kids, parents and older people was magical. I’d get out of the car to chat to people asking if they were ok, telling them to contact the centre if they needed help, advice. I couldn’t help myself when a few kids were doing cartwheels in their gardens. I had to get involved so I did a few cartwheels myself. Two days of driving around, tunes on, helping the bunnies, getting out and chatting to people, doing cartwheeling, dancing in the street made me think we should do this everyday. This could be our way to connect with the community. Debbie from the L30 Centre put a funding bid together and the L30 Millions funded it straight away.

We agreed the streets needed to nominate themselves and we advertised it through the L30 Centre Facebook page. There was loads of interest. We said they had to have at least 10 people to take part and they would have to check with their street first to see if everyone was ok with it.
Rene and Jacky agreed to come with me too, dressed up in costumes (Mickey & Minnie Mouse to begin with). That way it was a bit of fun and people didn’t need to think they had to take it too seriously. In the first few weeks a lot of people just wanted to film on their phones. (Me being a little bit bossy haha) I turned the music off and said no way. It’s about EVERYONE getting involved, having fun, moving a little bit and just letting go for 20-30mins. You can stand and tap your foot, clap your hands, sit in a chair, basically move to what suits you, on your doorstep, in your living room/bedroom window. With 30 years of working in the fitness industry I used my cheeky banter in motivating, encouraging and persuading people to let go and have a bit of fun.

So “Street Fitness” with mascots runs 4 days a week in 14 streets. I also taught at The Grange School. I’d deliver a stretch and relaxation session for the key workers children and staff. After a few weeks I started doing another day and 2 streets with Netherton Park Neighbourhood Centre.
Each street had a set day/times. Often the sound of my music told them what day it was and they needed to get dressed and get out in the street. The kids usually knew what day it was, they loved doing the fitness on their doorsteps. I used the same songs with set routines so after a few weeks everyone was a lot more relaxed, they knew what they were doing and started to really work hard for those 20-30mins.
Each street is totally different. Some streets you get ten people, others about 45. What I’ve loved about it is that the whole community has gotten involved. People who have never been in a gym, never exercised all together on their door steps, in their streets. Taking care of their own physical and mental wellbeing.

One of the streets has a lot of children so I’ve been running that as a kids sessions, like a kids club you have on holiday. Another street is so long Poulsom Drive that I have to get from one end to the other whilst dancing, instructing and trying to connect with everyone along the way. Its madness but I love it. Marion Way was the first street I did. They were so lovely as I was very nervous, all on their door steps, in their windows, a Dad with his daughters doing grapevines on their front path. Molly a beautiful young girl with autistism singing on the microphone “brothers and sisters” while Netherton Moss school kids and staff joined in. The whole street enjoyed being outside and exercising together. Even the bin men got involved one week. Another street is mainly young mums, it’s amazing to have watched them grow confidence and fitness and as group. Supporting each other. Proctor Court there’s 3 mums and their children, elderly neighbours in the window/doorstep, a Dad and tiny baby girl. We’ve done “street fitness” in the rain, wind and roasting hot sun. Every week they are waiting for me with big smiles and bursting with energy.
On another street theres a lady who nominated her street, she lives with biopolar, her 2 daughters live with autism. Firstly it was just the Mum, then one daughter. After chatting to them they joined my online Zoom classes. Next thing it was the whole family, Dad included in their front garden going for it. It’s a pleasure to watch and be part of. At the end of their row is a lovely couple who have lived there for over 50yrs. They haven’t missed a session since we started.

Stonyfield, the street I live in, and was brought up in makes me very emotional every single week. To stand in the middle of my street with my little Mum, Dad, daughter, her best friend, nieces and brother (who made a guest appearance once). I’m gutted my sister doesn’t live in our street, it would of been the whole family then. Neighbours who have watched me grow up, people I’ve known for many years join me in the street every week and exercising is just crazy. Who would of thought that I’d ever be dancing, exercising, cartwheeling and just being my crazy self in my own street with my family and neighbours and we’re all loving every minute of it. They came out the other week with their umbrellas, some of them are in their 70’s and 80’s – you can’t stop this street they are just fabulous. My cousins came to our street to join in, it was one of their birthdays. We wont forget our Bernadettes 65th in the rain, dancing in Stonyfield.

It’s been fabulous to watch the confidence of each street group. At first they’d stand outside waiting or come out when the music started and just smile at each other. Now they actually know each other. When I’ve finished and everyones feeling the benefits of exercising or just being in the window, stood on their doorstep, they have forgotten about all their worries, no longer feel self conscious, sluggish, generally fed up. They enjoy a chat over the fence or across the road, checking up on each other, see how each other are getting on or if anyone needs anything. People who have been neighbours for 15yrs are now having conversations and changing their impressions about each other. Making new friends and children getting to know their elderly neighbours

Many streets now have Whatsapp groups so they can stay in touch, they have organised quiz nights, street bingo. Our street bingo had 60 people in on the second week, Marie (everyone knows Marie) sang, Beautiful. 15 year old Mia sang and we had a dance off to Grease, those at the top end of the street were Sandy and those at the bottom end Danny. That’s a night I’ll never forget.
To finish the week off myself, Rene and Jacky (they’re dressed in what ever takes their fancy that day, might be Pepper Pig, might be Winnie the Pooh ha ha) we stand in Waterside bus stop on a Friday at 2.30pm. I get my speaker out, blast out the tunes, Jacky has her bubble gun and we wave, dance and have a scream entertaining the passing traffic. What a way to finish your week off. I’m honestly blessed to have been given this opportunity to work with such crazy wonderful women, to use my years of experience in the fitness industry to reach so many people and feel like I’m actually helping people within my own community in such an uncertain, sad, stressful time.
Without those two crazy women it just wouldn’t of been the same. To know they’re with me and can see, feel and experience what I’m witnessing makes it even more special. Then there’s Debbie who has supported me, encouraged me and believed in me to deliver “street fitness”. This whole experience has truly changed my life. I would love nothing more than to carry on working within my own community. Offering my support, encouragement, knowledge and experience to help the community stay together, to develop different groups within the community to take control of their own physical and mental well being.

Many thank to L30 Millions for funding “street fitness”, the support of all the staff at L30 Centre and Netherton Park Neighbourhood Centre but most of all, a massive thank you to the streets of Netherton for being so wonderful. For embracing an opportunity and just getting out there, having a go, developing as a community and being such an amazing group of people.

How do we build on what’s happened in this village? How do professionals as they return to community get alongside.

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