In late 1999, I stumbled upon a cheap day-time fitness class at the Methodist Church with an attached crèche. My son was six months old and I was a stay-at-home mother with a very limited budget. The classes were run by an arm of Stockport Council called Community Leisure, and every session was well attended and the crèche was a lovely way for an only child to gain some social skills with other small people.
It was not long after this time that it became apparent that the Council was not investing in advertising the Community Leisure activities, and numbers in the classes started to dwindle. Sadly in early 2006, the Council decided it was no longer prepared to provide the classes, and it announced its intention to close them for good. A group of four of us, all with children who had been through the crèche, decided to take over the running of the club. We felt it was an important facility in Cheadle Hulme, and we all appreciated the good work that the classes and the crèche had done for us and our children, and we wanted to ensure this excellent facility was available for others. We formed a constituted club, Cheadle Hulme Fitness, and with the aid of a National Lottery Grant, and some other small grants from local funds we were able to purchase the equipment and pay the staff in order to keep the club running until it was back on its feet.
We were fortunate to have Lesley, our instructor, and the ladies who work in the crèche, people who were prepared to trust us to do a professional and thorough job, they all agreed to come and work for us, and I hope we have provided a happy, safe, well-run club for them to do their respective jobs.
Slowly we have rebuilt a loyal base of members by advertising campaigns and word-of-mouth. We have kept to the principle of providing low-cost fitness for all in a friendly environment, and our crèche, which is run in partnership with Stockport Sports Trust, continues to provide a safe and fun environment for young children to spend an hour while mum (or grandma!) has an hour of friendly, healthy exercise next door. Sadly, the crèche had to close permanently in July 2017 due to circumstances beyond our control.
As befits a club, we have activities above and beyond the fitness classes we were set up to provide. Our first Christmas meal in 2006 was in a Chinese restaurant, and we have continued the tradition of exploring both traditional and somewhat unusual venues ever since. Our AGM is invariably held in the pub, and we organise quiz nights, and summer barbeques to try to provide some social and mental stimulation as well as the physical activity we get in class.
At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, we were genuinely worried for the future of Cheadle Hulme Fitness. Our members were almost all in the most vulnerable categories and many had to shield completely. A good number were on their own, and we were concerned for everyone’s mental -as well as their physical- well-being. So we hatched a plan. Lesley would record classes for us to do 3 times a week. Will, that same child who once played in the creche, now a University student in Southampton, was enlisted to edit the videos and to upload them to a platform that even the most technologically challenged person could manage to access. Each class was sent as a link with a chatty email and a joke or a funny video clip to keep everyone entertained and in contact with at least one person three times a week. We started a club WhatsApp group to keep in touch, and we made the class videos free to anyone who wanted them whether a member or not, and we kept our fingers crossed that it would work, and that we could sustain the members and their little club.
What happened next was the most uplifting and joyous experience. Not only did the members eagerly access the classes -we tried to stick to the 1.30pm time slot so that everyone could feel that they were together while apart- but they responded with donations to help us produce more classes. Lesley was the most fantastic person to have in front of the camera, chattering away with us from her living room to ours while we continued to exercise to the same idiosyncratic music selection. Will got creative with graphics and captions and we had ‘Special’ videos marking the VE day celebrations, holiday destinations we weren’t visiting, tunes with every member’s name in them, with photos to match, Christmas specials, weather-related sessions…the list goes on. If we helped just one person to make it through the lockdowns then it will all have been worth the effort and anxiety. Furthermore, as a result of all this interaction, the community feeling within the club has never been stronger.
The gradual relaxing of lock-down restrictions meant that we were able to return to classes, albeit with plenty of social distancing and limited class sizes. We continued to record and edit these class sessions and distribute them and over 200 video classes have now been produced. At the time of writing we are hoping that all restrictions will be lifted in time for us to resume as normal in September 2021. We sincerely hope so!
Cheadle Hulme Fitness is a fantastic club for all ages, and it is something I am enormously proud to have been involved with from the start. Come along and see for yourself how rewarding it can be!
Penny Sparrow (Chairman, Cheadle Hulme Fitness)