‘Lifesaving’ organisation ARC Fitness opens new gym
The ARC Fitness community has a new home and the organisation will now be able to offer more services than ever before.
Established in 2019 by personal trainer and registered mental health nurse Gary Rutherford, ARC Fitness has helped over 70 people who struggle with substance misuse.
It has a current waiting list of around 90 people, and this is only likely to increase as the impact of the pandemic and lockdown are fully felt.
Gary never thought that a social media page he set up in March 2019 would lead to a recovery programme which has an active community of around 40 people.
The Waterside man struggled with substance misuse for 15 years before getting sober.
Exercise was an integral part of his own recovery and he decided to try running a group which had exercise at it’s heart.
“A friend of mine suggested setting up a social media page and I went home and set up ARC fitness page, with the intention of signposting people to other services. It completed exploded and eventually I just decided to do it myself.”
He never expected the group to have the facilities they now have on the Bay Road.
The new facilities at the ARC Fitness gym on the Bay Road include two gyms, meeting facilities, an office, one to one counselling rooms, a shower room and in the near future will have a massage therapy room.
Gary, the programme development manager at ARC Fitness, said that the new gym has made ‘such a big difference’.
“Our groups were able to use the upstairs gym since July, while we were getting all the facilities downstairs ready. With so much space we have been trialling running more that one group at a time and that has helped tackle the waiting list.
“We are now on our 15th group. There are between six and eight people in each group and 76 have gone through the programme.
“Of those, 51 completed the programme and we have an active community of over 40 people. They are people who have completed the programme, who come and use this as a gym, take part in group therapy and mindfulness and enjoy the social aspect of it as well. Some of them have also become peer support mentors.”
Mags Campbell, personal trainer and mindfulness coach at ARC, said that before moving to the new facility, ARC had a waiting list of 140.
“Since we have made the move we have been trying to get through the waiting list and have trialled running more than one group at a time. In the last couple of months we have managed to bring the waiting list down to around 90.
“There are people on the waiting list who are maybe outside Derry, so if they are unable to travel we keep them on the list until we are able to offer something in their area.”
“The online academy can help with that,” Gary said. “Whenever the first lockdown came we launched the online academy in partnership with Learning Pool. “We are in the process of testing a new online academy, which will be bigger and will offer more aspects of the programme including personal development. It will be sectioned off for individuals, families, schools, community groups and businesses and they will be able to access different parts of the online academy.”
ARC do regular check ins with all those on the waiting list.
“The great thing about having this new gym, it means that people can drop in and have a chat, find out more about the group and the programme.”
The global Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns has had a huge impact on people struggling with substance misuse.
“People who were struggling prior to lockdown are picking up the pieces afterwards”, Gary said. “More people were using and the demand for services has really increased. The hard part is that the full impact hasn’t really reached us, but it is steadily having a knock on effect.”
“We are also seeing people within ARC who had long periods of sobriety and the lockdown and isolation and everything that came with that caused them to lapse within that time,” Mags added.
ARC do not expel people for relapsing, as they recognise it is ‘part of the process.’
“We have a relapse prevention programme and whenever someone relapses they come in and we create a relapse plan. We make them think about what happened to cause the relapse and how they can learn from that,” Gary said.
This relapse plan is reviewed every two weeks until the person is at a point where they are okay again.
“It encourages them to learn from what happened and allows them to see we treat people with dignity, that we are non-judgemental and that there is no shame in making mistakes,” Gary added. “That is at the core of our beliefs.”
“We are about empowering people, not only in their recovery, but in what they want to do with their lives,” Mags added. “Those who have come through the programme are so open about being different people. Some of them have gone back to education, some have been really taken with the exercise and have had their eyes opened to their potential.
ARC Fitness was just one of the groups involved with the first every recovery walk in the city last month, and Gary said it was a good opportunity to highlight all the organisations who support people struggling with substance misuse.
“There is lots of support and there are lots of organisations out there working hard to support people but they are restricted by budgets, finance and demand. That is the hard part, we are all struggling because funding is a huge problem.”
“We want to reach as many people as possible and bring what we do to as many people as possible. We are working with families, developing a young people’s programme, working with schools and doing corporate outreach work.
“Once we get ARC Derry right, it would be nice to see the model of what we do - treating people like people and giving them opportunities - replicated elsewhere.”
Among those who have been empowered by ARC Fitness is local man Warren Villa, who has been sober for 21 months and completed the six week recovery programme with ARC Fitness last year.
He has since become a peer support mentor with the organisation and has returned to education.
Warren said that ARC was a ‘lifesaver’ and he wouldn’t know what he would do without it.
“I know a lot of people struggle with sobriety, but because life before was so bad that was the real struggle when I was existing like that.
“I had lived like that since I was a teenager. ARC was a lifesaver, to be part of something with this much heart and soul I feel this is where I am supposed to be. It is such a special place and if it wasn’t for this I wouldn’t be here.”
Warren said that becoming a peer support mentor has allowed him to give something back.
“When you are living the life of addiction, it is a very selfish life. You only think about what you need to get through the day and don’t think about anyone else.
“Whenever you achieve sobriety it is about everyone else, you want to give your life towards other people and help them achieve the same as you.”
He said that ARC has improved every single aspect of his life.
”I am studying for the first time in my life and I have better relationships with my family and with everyone around me. It has improved every aspect of my life.
“The lived experience sets ARC apart for me. When people have been down that road, they know exactly where that person is at.
“There is no judgement here and an understanding that everyone has their troubles.
“This sort of kind loving environment feels like it shouldn’t exist. It is such a part of my daily routine, I wouldn’t know what to do without it. It is such a good group of people to be around.”
Edele Moore, who is a personal trainer and has been involved with ARC from it’s very humble beginnings, agrees.
“I feel so privileged to be here and to be in all these people’s corner. In ARC you will get nothing but love and support and respect. It is special and becomes a second family.
“One of the guys in the community described his situation as being in a really dark black hole and ARC was the hand that came in and lifted him out.”
Stevie Duddy, a peer support mentor with ARC, celebrated his first anniversary of sobriety earlier this week.
A qualified personal trainer for around 15 years, Stevie went through the six-week programme last year.
He relapsed for a time, but has been sober since October.
“I have only really started to live since becoming part of ARC. This is the longest I have been sober since I was 14.”
He said that anniversaries like this and huge celebrations in ARC something he finds ‘amazing’.
Since his relapse, Stevie has become a peer support mentor and now opens up the gym, takes classes and helps people with their induction at the gym.
“I have been a PT for 15 years, so the fitness side was always there for me and I find exercise is the biggest form of self care.
“For me the educational part of the programme was the best part. It helped me to understand myself, my choices and what I was going through makes.
Stevie said this made his journey on sobriety ‘less scary’.
“My life has changed massively and I have only started living. I am 38 now and in the last year sobriety was my priority. Now I am in a position where I can start living.”
Stevie is looking forward to many experiences that he was never present for in the past.
“I have never been present anywhere for the last ten years or more. I have never been there at weddings, birthdays or any other celebrations. Because I was using. I was there in body but I wasn’t really there.”