One year on and Derby Active at Home is going strong

Derby Active at Home

Tue 23 Mar 2021

Derby Active at Home celebrates its first birthday this week. Since it began as a response to the first lockdown, Derby Active’s online leisure service has become a thriving online community, massively increasing its membership and offering valuable support for mental health as well as physical fitness.

When Derby City Council’s leisure centres closed their doors on the evening of 18 March 2020, staff quickly adapted to set up an online fitness offer, using the In Derby website and the Derby Active Group Exercise Facebook group.

Health and wellbeing advisors and class instructors adjusted to running live video classes, adapting to lack of space, demonstrating left and right on video, and unplanned appearances from pets and children. Since then the Facebook group has grown from 106 active members in March 2020 to its current total of 1,800 active members, and the Derby Active at Home webpage has been viewed more than 6,500 times.

Behind the numbers are stories of personal success. Derby Active member Val Thorp was “devastated” when lockdown was announced. A keen swimmer and gym member, she was finally back to full fitness after two years of treatment and operations for breast cancer.

Val said: “My physical and mental health are definitely intrinsically linked, so entering lockdown was going to be a challenge having lost access to both pools and gyms. Having been in a pretty dark place with the cancer diagnosis, there was no way I was going to let my physical and mental health slide backwards.”

Swapping swimming for running, she completed the NHS Couch to 5K app to maintain her cardio-vascular fitness, working up to running 10K. Then she joined Derby Active’s online classes. Val said: “Making time for these classes was really important and it was good to be able to communicate with the instructors and classmates over Facebook Live. Communication with others, even in this limited way, is extremely important to keep everybody sane. My aim now we’re in lockdown no. 3 is to come out a better version of myself.”

In support of Val, the Derby Active at Home community have joined together to raise money for Cancer Research UK’s Walk All Over Cancer campaign, which challenges fundraising teams to walk more than 10,000 steps a day during March. Their total so far is £1,100 and rising.

Self-confessed ‘social butterfly’ Ann Thomas is another Derby Active member who found the first lockdown hard. Like many of us who thrive on seeing and meeting people, she found it a shock to go from regular group fitness classes and frequent work travel to working at home.

She said: “The only thing that has remained constant during the last ten months has been my exercise regime. The staff at Derby Active have continued to offer a variety of several online classes throughout the week, which I can either do live or catch up on demand.  This has been a godsend and has seriously helped me through these difficult times as not sure what I’d do without them.”

Although leisure centres were allowed to re-open in a limited way in July, the continuing pandemic has continued to affect services, with many finding this winter lockdown the toughest of all.

Derby Active member Amy Jarrett worked long hours from home supporting the supply of products to the NHS during the first summer lockdown, but found exercise a great release, making the most of the lighter evenings with walks, bike rides, online workouts and weight training.

She said: “With the winter months drawing the days in and logging off from work when it’s dark, this has meant my initial enthusiasm has waived a little. I have found such a huge benefit from the Derby Active evening online classes this time around. They keep me in a routine and the instructors make such a huge effort to keep us all motivated and keep the workouts feeling fresh.”

Derby Active at Home has also provided online sessions for track cyclists and gymnasts during the pandemic, and sessions with personal trainers have continued online too. Derby Active member Gareth Lane, who has benefited from these, said: “The sessions have helped me hugely with both my physical and mental health during the lockdown. I am training every day using the new techniques and routines that have been created for me.”

A combination of training and tracking calories with support from his trainer Lyndsey Mclaughlin has resulted in a loss of over a stone in weight for Gareth from March 2020 to February 2021. He plans to continue his one-to-one training in the Gym when they can re-open.

Derby Active’s staff also benefited from the unexpected change in approach from face-to-face to online. A keen long distance runner, swimmer and qualified running coach outside work, Helen Treece had to find new ways to stay in touch with Derby Active members and her runners.

She said: “During the last 12 months, I have endeavoured to keep the community active by writing some fitness blogs for Derby Active, posting videos, taking online classes for the wider community. This has helped my mental health, kept me fit and also built my confidence delivering virtually and online.”

She has also set herself challenges, including a 50 mile virtual run, or a 12 hour static bike cycling challenge with colleague Steve Summers which raised over £2,000 for charity.

Councillor Robin Wood, Derby City Council’s Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Tourism, said: “While there is nothing like the feeling of being part of a team or the atmosphere of a fitness class, there is a need for this kind of flexible offering, knowing there is a whole community of like-minded people who are with you. So even though we are looking forward to opening the doors of our leisure facilities again, we will be looking to keep Derby Active at Home going in some way in the future.”