The Healthy Living Centre in Creggan’s Central Drive is breathing new life into the ‘more established’ residents of the estate.
The centre, based in the Old Library Trust (OLT) building has 3,000 people registered on fitness programmes and many of them are in their seventies. Laurence McClenaghan went along and met the very active participants on the Older People Project.
Programme Planner at the OLT, Leeann Monk, explains: “We are all about accessibility here. So in addition to no age restrictions, there is no cost barrier, no hard sell, no direct debits, no cancellation fees, simply support and encouragement for those of all ages and all abilities.
“The beauty about the Older People Project is that, despite many members living with long term, life limiting conditions, our 12 fitness instructors are all Wright Foundation Level Two qualified. This means they can lead participants in a medically suited, individually tailored fitness programme.”
There are in excess of 500 people signed up for the OP Project and classes run six days a week from 6.45am to 9pm.
In addition to the Older People Project, there is The GP Referral Project, Walk in classes, Get Active Programme, Creggan’s Biggest Loser and the Bolt Running Club, in other words something to suit everyone.
Pat Hume was referred to the OLT by his GP. Despite suffering with COPD, heart failure and insulin dependent diabetes, Mr. Hume has been attending the project for three months. “It was difficult to come in through the doors on day one. I had never been in a gym before. Already I have lost a few pounds so it has made a big difference. After my heart failure I was afraid of tackling hills which, considering I live on Southway, isn’t good. I would have got breathless quite quickly but that is improving.”
Pat is on a ten week programme for one hour every Friday and after that he intends on continuing the ‘health kick’ but quips: “I haven’t signed up for any marathons just yet!”
Leeanne Monk said: “It is a specific free programme, tailored to the needs of the individual. The other factor is that participants have the gym to themselves and their personal trainer. They don’t share the gym with young people for example.”
Pat Hume added: “It would have been daunting walking into a gym but my trainer, Alec knew what was going on. He knows how to push me. He has a great quote ‘I’m not your friend when you’re training but I am afterwards.’”
Alec Given is only one of two fitness instructors qualified to help those on oxygen after cardiac failure exercise. ‘Breathless not helpless’ is the OLT approach.
Certainly the centre is full of people with remarkable stories.
Maureen McGuigan is a sprightly 76 years young and credits the OLT with “putting me back on my feet.”
The Inishowen Crescent woman explains: “I had a knee operation but I was too proud for crutches so I ended up breaking my ankle; Now I’m going linedancing, swimming and attending drama classes. I never did that before I came here.”
It was a similar story for her 75 year old friend Fidelus Kerr; “I broke my foot when I was hit by a car but after coming here I’m doing yoga, spinning classes, everything, I’m going into the gym and spin class right now,” said the retired pre-school teacher.
“We both do the walking club every Tuesday morning. The minibus drives us somewhere scenic, then we take a walk, it is great.”
Sixty three year old, Theresa Brown admits she had never exercised in her life until her doctor referred her here to the centre. I have found it really beneficial in many ways. I have osteo-arthritis so walking was painful. Gyms were anathema but then my legs got too heavy and painful as I was too heavy. Even when my doctor referred me I was terrified, but the coaches were so patient with me. Tommy McCallion had to walk me around the hall for four weeks I was so terrified of the machines. I wouldn’t let go of the coach when I was first on the treadmill. Now I’ve no fear of them or of fitness work.
“The coaches understand you, they know your condition, your limitations and they get the best from you. They inspire confidence in you in this safe environment.”
The OLT provide a significant support package after the initial GP referral course finishes.
Liz McGilloway completed the 12 week referral project some seven years ago. “The furthest I ever walked before then was from my door to a taxi. I do spinning classes now and the cameraderie is great. I love it.”
As well as spin there are another 20 ‘Walk in Classes,’ different fitness programmes, such as, Pilates, Zumba, Bums and tums etc.
Leann Monk said: “We welcome beginners, they will always be made to feel welcome. We also aim to reduce the cost as much as possible. The classes are £3 each or passes are available for eight classes, there is also a monthly pass for £25 which can be paid up for.”
People come to the classes in different ways. Joe McKane and Chris Radcliffe were both among the 168 people who joined the initial ‘Creggan’s Biggest Loser’ project.
Joe said: “We had so much success from that we started attending the fitness classes. Before the Biggest Loser I never kept fit, the first running class we went to, Chris and I walked as we could barely run.”
This month they completed a relay run in a half marathon.
Joe said; “I wasn’t embarrassed about running, I was embarrassed about my weight but now we come on a Wednesday night and we are like old women talking about what weight we are - no offence,” he adds for the benefit of the rest of the group
“There were very few men on the programme but we lost weight so it was worth it.”
Chris explains how the Biggest Loser challenge worked: “We formed teams of six but weighed in as individuals. The weight loss was then displayed as a percentage per team. That really helped people feel comfortable.”
Despite that fact the boys shed two stone each, they are still bickering over who was the Biggest Loser.
“It was great,” said Leanne, “some of the weight loss was brilliant. Even better is that the majority of those people are still with us on one of our fitness programmes.”
A new ‘Biggest Loser’ programme started this week for those with a BMI over 30. One hundred people signed up and a waiting list is already in place.
“We wanted to give people the support they needed so we limited the places,” said Leanne.
Additional support for the programme is provided by Tommmy McCallion and Dr. Nicola Duffy. They are assisting the coaches at OLT who certainly have a sterling reputation with four Derry City legends and a kickboxing world champion among them, namely Kevin Deery, Tommy McCallion, Sean Hargan, Eddie McCallion, Daniel ‘Pinta’ Quigley, Rosie O’Brien, Ciara Melaugh, Alec Given, Karen Deery and George McGowan.
To get in touch with them, telephone 71373870 or via facebook/OLTCreggan.