Why not to combine jogging with community projects?

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Exercise is, in principle, a selfish act; from the gym posers curling weights to the yoga-bunnies with aspirations of looking like a Kardashian, it boils down to people taking the time to make themselves healthier and change the way they look.

GoodGym offers an alternative. This group of volunteers spend their Monday nights running to community projects, offering their assistance, and running back. GoodGym also works with elderly residents, with many runners making the commitment to visit a lonely senior every week.

On Monday night, GoodGym’s Islington branch was on a mission to jog from Highbury Pool to Sunnyside Community Garden, and from there clear the weeds and undergrowth to prepare for this year’s batch of fresh shrubbery.

It was time for me to discover some green fingers and see what GoodGym was all about.

As people assembled outside Highbury Pool, I was glad to see that I was not the only first-timer, and that people in black ‘GoodGym’ shirts (achieved after at least 50 runs) were mixing with people in a civilian mismatch of running gear.

Joining me was fellow first-timer Samah Abdu: “I go running once a month, at a push. I think I’m going to be tired, but at the same time I hope I’m going to be feeling good afterwards.”

Heading up this motley crew was the effortlessly enthusiastic GoodGym volunteer Simon Loughran. After cajoling the group into warm and roll-call, this professional running coach took the chance to speak to me about what GoodGym hopes to achieve: “The main aim of GoodGym is to get fit by doing good things. The energy most people use to get fit is going nowhere, it’s just generating heat. People here are putting energy into doing something, moving logs around to help out a local garden centre.”

The group was split into three groups: fast, medium and ‘philosophers’. I had done some cross country in my time but hadn’t run properly in over two years, and had so settled for the medium group, headed up by Patrick, who was celebrating his 150th run with GoodGym.

We had barely had time to catch our breath upon reaching Sunnyside Garden Centre where Simon greeted us brandishing shears and spades; there was work to be done.

The mood was jovial in its own slightly cringeworthy way, myself and other volunteers pulling brambles while singing ‘I’m thorny, thorny thorny thorny.’ Soon a messy growth of brambles and bushes were cleared.

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Casting a shadow over the event was the news that the garden centre has been destroyed twice by arsonists.

Yvonne Say, a director of Sunnyside Community Centre, said: “We’re a community garden centre that specialises in therapeutic horticulture. We have disabled clients here that are able to practice gardening.

“It was devastating [when the centre burned down]. Local people suspect it was the same person both times, but they can’t prove it. This time we’re going to build a brick building, the insurance premiums on another wooden structure would be sky high.

“This is going to take several years so the architect has suggested we spruce up this area. We’ve asked GoodGym to help us, getting rid of all that stuff round the back here and that’s fantastic.”

Our musical accompaniment for the run back to Highbury was Jerry Lewis’ ‘Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Fire’, with Patrick carrying a nifty device that doubled as lantern and radio.

When we were back we were bemused to see that the ‘fast’ group had yet to materialise. Debates over whether they had been abducted or lost dissipated when they finally did materialise; Simon had led the group on a lap around the Emirates stadium, just for the challenge.

Plans are in place for next Monday, more gardening at another first time venue; West London Mission.

From what I have seen, GoodGym is a group of people dedicated to combining their desire to stay fit with a genuine passion for making Islington a better place.

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