Serendipity brought me this opportunity. Someone I met on an activity holiday in Northumberland (go Northern Bootcamp) turned out to live quite near to me in Sheffield, and she tipped me off about this completely brilliant community exercise class. It’s just one pound, one-hundred pennies £1 – absolute bargain. That is what got me heading over to Heeley (see the punning there?) to get my community kicks.
This weekly class is subsidised by some sort of community health initiative I think. I do know that the first time I went (just last week) there were quite a few forms to fill in which made me really wish I’d brought my glasses with me. I was bit worried that I wasn’t strictly eligible as I’m not within the Heeley postcode area, and nor am I an ‘older Asian Woman’ which was the target demographic. The woman from the council who set it all up a few weeks ago had rolled up to see how it was going, and she was of the view the more the merrier, and said not to worry about being out of area. That’s good. It can be tiring generating false identities. Trust me, I know. I was a mystery shopper for a while (really boring, I thought I’d be going off shopping at boutique independent stores or eating at high end restaurants, instead I just had to keep phoning telephone help lines to ask for financial advice or bank loans) this meant I had to come up with lots of false names and addresses so they I could fool the call operative that I was a ‘real’ person, and it was an absolute pain. It’s quite nice to be able to truthfully be me, even if I still have no idea what my own phone number is and have to look it up every time. Not very convincing I know.
The class is held in a community hall over in Heeley and it’s really pretty good. Large arched windows let in lots of natural light and it’s been recently painted. I associated community halls with sticky floors and disintegrating plaster work, but this is nothing like that. It is perhaps a little tattered at the edges, but pre-loved rather than shabby. Having said that, there a few niggles. Last week there was no proper music for our class due to the power not working. This week when I arrived there was a maintenance man in evidence. He was there to put up a clock, but fixed the power too whilst he was there. The interruption in power supply was caused by a twig pushed into a power socket apparently, it’s hard to fathom how that happened. Kids playgroup perhaps, a small crawling child unable to access a metal pin improvised with nature’s bounty instead? Or wanton vandalism? Another mystery.
On arrival, we sign a register (postcodes etc were all given last week alongside legthy form on everything from mental health to reasons for exercise having been completed last week) a small pile of pound coins gathers next to it, as we all deposit our payment. It’s all very discrete, and I suspect if you couldn’t afford the pound and didn’t pay, no-one would chase you for it.
The demographic of the class is hard to read. There is one woman who told me proudly that she was 66 last week, she is incredibly youthful looking and laughs all the time, I’d never have guessed her age if she hadn’t made a point of telling me. It is quite ethnically diverse which is good, it feels like a healthy cross section of the community – and at a guess I’d say there is a mix of people who are retired, self-employed, mums on maternity leave and others between jobs. All women.
I struck up a conversation with a woman I recognised from last week. She was carrying a two litre water bottle which was three quarters full with what looked like cheap lager. It was a thin brownish colour and had a definite froth at the top. I didn’t know whether to be impressed, straight-faced non-judgemental (alcohol at 10.00 a.m. is a legitimate lifestyle choice, we all have our props to get through the day after all) or ask her outright. If it is alcohol, I wonder vaguely if they have a sort of non-intoxicants policy – you know the kind of thing. ‘It’s your choice, but please leave drugs, alcohol, nitrous oxide canisters and the like in the bag drop by the door before continuing into the hall to join your community activity’ (nearly said nitro-glycerine there, but I think that might be a special case).
I asked her outright. Disappointingly, it wasn’t home brew, she’s on a detox. Some sort of apple concentrate with spices etc. I really wished I hadn’t asked her. So much more fun to think otherwise. Other class members arrive, it’s quite a full group – maybe 17 of us, and a bit of a squash. Just like at the other class I go to, we all cling to the walls at first. There are more places to hide here though, there are stacks of plastic chairs, and around the corner a sort of alcove behind where a kitchen area sticks out, and then there’s a cupboard too. You could have a stab at playing hide and seek in this hall and it wouldn’t be a complete disaster as long as the people you were playing with were aged 4 or under. Even so, we are all eventually flushed out into the open like woodlice exposed when you lift up a stone, and cheerily cajoled into position to start the class..
The music having been restored we worked out to sixties classics including ‘da doo ron ron ron, da doo ron ron’ and ‘needle in a haystack’. It’s a brilliant instructor, she is tireless, and always leads by example, throwing herself into routines with enthusiasm and keeping up a running commentary of implausible but encouraging feedback on how we are doing. Periodically she’ll call out ‘Good Work!’ or ‘That’s excellent’ you’d think we were potential candidates as circus acrobatics for Cirque de Soleil! However, she can’t be completely deluded, as I noticed she changed some of the exercises, ‘tell you what now, lets not try four repeats for this one, lets just go twice shall we?’ None of us were fooled, there were knowing laughs that she had lowered her expectations about our capabilities after witnessing us in action, but it was taken in good humour.
Despite our being, well let’s say a ‘mixed ability’ group. We did work up quite a sweat between us. In fact the large windows completely steamed up. It might have quite got the hopes up of any passing doggers, but actually, the windows are too high up for anyone to really see in, they would have to pass on by never knowing what sights they had missed out on…
Our instructor is particularly safety conscious, providing a list of hazards and precautions as we worked out – ‘look out for the fire door, left ajar – don’t want you banging into it’, and ‘don’t forget to get water when you want’ – despite this one woman managed to crash spectacularly into the piles of chairs stacked at the sides of the room. Quite an achievement as she was facing them at the time, it must have been that she had so much forward momentum her brakes just failed. She wasn’t hurt, just laughed uproariously. A good reaction.
The instructor worked out furiously, at intervals mopping her brow with an endless supply of paper towels filched from the loo. She also has a habit of saying what’s in her head which I find both entertaining and endearing, today the themes were being sore from over-exertion in the gym yesterday, and hunger: ‘ooooh, I’m starving today, absolutely ravenous – I could eat my arm I really could’.
After 45 minutes or so of throwing ourselves around to the sixties classics, we moved onto floor work. We obediently trooped to the side of the hall and queued up outside the cupboard to collect our yoga mats. These are a motley assortment. Some thin limp offerings were probably bought in bulk as a community resource, one or two classier thick ones with proper tapes to secure them may have been left behind by other users, some look distinctly pitiful. Our instructor was left with the only available mat which I swear looked like some ferocious animal had taken several bites out of it in a wild feeding frenzy, I did wonder if maybe her hunger had got the better of her after all. Thinking we wouldn’t notice because a)she had her back to us whilst ostensibly fossicking in the cupboard for a yoga mat, and b)we were distracted by laying out our own mats; she took the opportunity to rip a good old hunk of the blue foam mat off with her bare teeth, she must have been pretty desperate to do so, but it seems a plausible enough explanation to me.
We finish with some stretching. There isn’t a class next week because of half term. We are all encouraged to ‘go for a nice autumnal walk outside instead.’ Perhaps I will.
It is amazing and fantastic that this kind of community exercise class exists. An absolute bargain, and no compromise in the ability of the instructor. Even though it was all kept pretty simple, she did help out with correct technique, encouraging you to keep your hips parallel or noting where the weight should be in your feet (back on the heel rather than forward on the toe) when doing stretches. It’s good to get out, even though it’s a bit of a drag to get over to Heeley, it’s well worth the effort. Yay. Here’s to the Heeley Institute, long may it continue.