Free fitness boot camp for Edinburgh’s homeless

Street Fit Scotland at the Meadows in Edinburgh. Photograph: Ian Georgeson
Street Fit Scotland at the Meadows in Edinburgh. Photograph: Ian Georgeson
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They have become a regular feature in many of Scotland’s public parks – a fitness instructor, sometimes dressed in army surplus clothing, yelling instructions at lycra-clad puffing and panting clients dragging rubber tyres behind them or doing press-ups and running circuits.

Now a free outdoor boot camp has started up aimed at people who rarely have the courage to enter a gym – rough sleepers and those living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

Held to dance music, Street Fit Scotland’s classes run in the Meadows in Edinburgh on Wednesday evenings, attracting up to 30 people to every session.

Dressed in the charity’s distinctive blue sweatshirts and hoodies – given out after attending three sessions – the fitness camp blends in with all the other activities such as football, cricket, running, frisbee and tai chi taking place in the large public green space near Edinburgh University.

Members are put through their paces with a range of equipment and bespoke training programmes including circuits and Boxercise designed by the charity’s founder Michelle Reilly.

Helping keep-fit expert Reilly run the classes are freelance fitness instructors, such as Mikey Mair from The Gym in Waterloo Place.

Reilly, a former hostel worker who decided to take the plunge and change career, said: “People who are homeless see gyms as the sort of places people who are working and have jobs go. They don’t feel part of society and find it difficult to get through that door.

“Being outside in the open air is less intimidating and it’s easier to just stroll up.”

The group uses keep-fit equipment such as kettlebells, battle ropes, weighted vests and TRX suspension systems used by special operations US Navy SEALS (sea, air and land teams).

Stuart Cumming, 28, who lives in supported accommodation, and suffers from PTSD, said he has built up muscle and gained confidence attending the sessions.

“It’s changed the way I look at life. It’s given me confidence and a reason to get up in the mornings. I’ve been asked to be a mentor and I get a good feeling from helping people.”

Natasha, 44, who is battling agoraphobia, said she had felt so welcomed by the group it was “like having a family”.

“It’s been so friendly from the get-go. We all catch up and chat before and after the class. Michelle is such a star.”

New recruits undergo health assessments including BMI and blood pressure checks. The programme also includes workshops on issues such as Naloxone training – a drug used to block an opioid overdose – nutrition and self-esteem.

The team’s mascot is Tango, a fox terrier attending classes with his owner, who lives in a women’s hostel.

The Scottish Government-funded project is part of Legacy 2014, intended to break down barriers and get Scots into sport following the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

Reilly added: “I’ve encouraged some of the group to come with me to the Commonwealth Pool gym on Tuesdays. The night before, Pret a Manger in Hanover Street give me fresh, left-over salad boxes and we have a healthy buffet for everyone afterwards.”