Ability Bow: helping people through the pandemic and beyond

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge effect on community organisations, and Ability Bow has been particularly hard hit. Like all other gyms, they had to close during the 3 national lockdowns between March 2020 and April 2021.

But Ability Bow is not any old gym. As most people in St Paul Old Ford, and others in the nearby Bow community know, it’s the only gym of its type in London. It provides an exercise lifeline in east London, supporting people who have disabilities and those living with life-changing health conditions like diabetes, stroke and cancer.

But although lockdown forced them to close, Ability Bow kept going, to support their clients. Victoria Kent, the founder and chief executive, describes what they did in her recent blog post for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

“Immediately in lockdown we knew that we had to keep people moving and connected. We had to find a way to achieve this, even though with our gym closed we couldn’t support them face-to-face… We started by creating a library of online exercises to share freely, for people to exercise safely in the home. Isolation is a serious issue for the community we support which has been amplified by COVID-19. We rang, texted and posted exercise programmes to keep our people as active and connected as possible. Sometimes we were the only person they’d spoken to that day and it was clear that no one was moving around much.”

They then managed to get some government funding to step up their online services. As Victoria says:

“Thanks to the support of this funding, we have since been able to expand this support to provide specialist exercise one-to-one sessions via livestream. We have also been doing group chat sessions online for our community to join in the live conversation and to reconnect with each other and our staff.”

So, although the gym has been closed, they have been keeping their important services going. During the first 12 months of the pandemic, they provided 1,200 online one-to-one sessions. And it’s still going now, still supporting many people to exercise at home.

Since restrictions have been eased, they have been gradually welcoming people back in person over the past few months and becoming busier again. And this month, they have begun to get back to a more normal opening times and running one-to-one sessions with a trainer. They’re currently open Monday to Friday as follows:

  • Monday to Wednesday: 10am to 5pm (closed 1pm to 2pm)
  • Thursday: 10am to 1pm
  • Friday 10am to 2pm

These times will hopefully change again because they’re hoping to get back to pre-pandemic opening times (Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm in October). Keep an eye on their social media (Twitter and Facebook) for more information.

This coming Sunday, 3 October, is the 2021 London Marathon. The marathon is traditionally an important fundraising event for Ability Bow, and this year is no exception. They have 19 people running for them this year, and they’re hoping that this brings in a decent amount of money.

One of the people running this year is our church warden Tim. He hit his funding target doing the virtual London marathon last year, but he’s trying to raise some more money doing the actual race this year. He’s looking forward to wearing his Ability Bow vest and running 26 miles round London on Sunday. You can sponsor him at his giving page.

You can watch a video message from gym user Christine to all Ability Bow’s marathon runners on their YouTube channel.

Ability Bow do amazing work and are a vital part of our community here in Bow. We’re really proud to have them based here in St Paul Old Ford, and we see their work as a part of our wider mission to our area. Particularly because it’s a place where people’s lives are changed and which helps them through a healing process, both physically and mentally. So if you are someone who likes to give money to good causes, think about donating to Ability Bow, either through Tim’s marathon page, or directly to the charity itself.

You might even want to consider regular giving. It’s been a difficult 18 months and they need ongoing funding, not just one-off grants and donations. We want them to be part of our community for many years to come.

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