Fitness classes for homeless people opens to public after charity founder bounces back from covid-19

A woman who set up Edinburgh's first street fitness programme for homeless people is opening up the sessions to the wider community.

Wednesday, 21st October 2020, 7:00 am
Street Fit Scotland founder Michelle Reilly putting classes through their paces at the Meadows
Street Fit Scotland founder Michelle Reilly putting classes through their paces at the Meadows

Michelle Reilly, who set up Street Fit Scotland while working in a hostel in 2014, was floored by covid-19 then pleurisy for a month just after lockdown in March. The 37-year-old feared her health and fitness programme would go to the wall.But instead the charity, which runs free outdoor boot camps for rough sleepers and those living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, is ramping up its programme and launching a new running group – open to anyone in the Capital.Ms Reilly, who shared the stage with Dame Kelly Homes MBE at a wellbeing festival this year as the athlete talked about her battles with depression, has now been awarded £40,000 by NHS and ECC for two years.Over forty people are put through their paces every week at outdoor boot camps and online sessions led by Michelle and a range of coaches. The cash will mean SFS can support more people, including those recovering from addictions.Ms Reilly, who experienced homelessness as a teenager, was terrified when she struggled to get out of bed after getting the virus and a severe chest infection. But when she found out that two people in her group had attempted suicide during lockdown, she pushed herself to get back on her feet.She said: "I was so scared about what could happen to everyone if I wasn't there. Lockdown was hard for the group. I had my phone on 24/7 on high suicide alert. If you're stuck in a B&B it's not always a positive place, we help get them out. We can't just leave people to rot. Some people in hostels or temp accommodation are terrified, it can be chaotic.""People in the group have problems but Street Fit gives them access to something fun that they can do at their own pace and they don't feel judged. They can come in feeling rubbish and leave buzzing,"The 37-year-old lost her younger brother and cousin to suicide and addiction. She said it hit her after lockdown that physical activity and the peer-led, group support was going to be even more vital in covid-19 times, especially for those already struggling with their mental health."Two of the group tried to take their life during lockdown. It's heart-breaking. My cousin was always in crisis and never had consistent support. That was one of the catalysts for me, to recognise there is not enough support for mental health.""Some of the group really struggled and some still are. They will feel like that again. I think we are going to see a big wave of mental health problems. What we are doing with outdoor boot camps, the online sessions and the new walking groups gives them a coping strategy. I can see it helping to build their resilience. Behaviour does change over time, given a chance. They are helping each other through hard times."Members now get access to phone counselling and the charity has delivered tablets for everyone to make sure they can attend sessions online, as well as the outdoors sessions. This week the charity has delivered 40 socially distanced outdoor group workouts since March.And Ms Reilly, who was a frontline project worker for 17 years, is recruiting extra coaches to put on more sessions including walking, cycling and the new open running group which she hopes the public will pitch up at."What we do is more in demand than ever. I get calls constantly from GPs, health centres and other places to take people. Now with this funding I can help more people. And I hope that the community will support us."Nobody should look at another person and say, they are homeless or have addictions or problems, I can't mix with them. We are all people and I can't imagine a group more fun and welcoming to be part of than this one.""We have so much fun, we welcome anyone. I'm so proud of the way they have stepped up and how they help take care of each other."The new running group will start on Monday November 6 at the Meadows. People are asked for £5 donations to join in.

Stuart is a champion for SFS, who helps out as a volunteer with the younger members. The charity has applied for cash to give him a job. The 30-year-old has PTSD caused by an attack which left him with a brain injury. He has struggled in the past with mental health and binge drinking. He started going to Street Fit sessions four years ago and says it has helped him turn his life around. And coming to the sessions has got him through a difficult six months."I need that in my week. It's so good to get out and see friendly faces. A lot of people struggle to even get there, but after the session we are all on top form. I'm helping out with the younger ones and that's pushing me but it's really good for me to be helping others."I still find it hard now at times, and it can be lonely. But it's so good to see how I'm helping to motivate others. I go the extra mile if I have to. I have gone to meet people and brought them to the sessions then had a coffee with them after. Sometimes it just takes a bit of extra encouragement to get out the door."

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