Edinburgh gym reaches out to homeless people by offering free and unlimited access to its facilities

An Edinburgh gym has reached out in support of people facing disadvantage or homelessness by offering free and unlimited access to its facilities.

Places Gym, Leith Walk, has channelled its largesse, which is also open to the refugee community, through Street Soccer, Scotland, which has an active programme in the Capital. Among those poised to benefit are Ukrainian nationals and the Team Afghanistan players who took part in a Nations Cup event in Scotland last year.

Lewis McKenzie, spokesperson for Street Soccer Scotland, welcomed an initiative embracing volunteers and staff as well as core players, saying: “Having access to the gym whenever players please is not just about boosting fitness although that is important. Being able to attend a gym and mix with others will hopefully have mental health benefits too during the cost-of-living crisis and periods of social isolation.”

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The Nations Cup provided a highlight for Street Soccer in 2022 and this year a Homeless World Cup – won by Scotland in 2009 – is a possibility for the USA later this year although arrangements have still to be finalised. However, McKenzie says the primary focus remains providing opportunities at various satellite venues across Scotland. “The more people we get coming along to drop in sessions the more we can help. There are no restrictions and we include those recovering, homeless and refugees.”

Group pic shows, left to right, from Street Soccer Scotland: Craig McManus, Paddy Maloney, Robbie Wood, William Lambert and Owen Turner alongside Places Gym Leith Walk assistant manager Jonathan Tucket.

Edinburgh soccer sessions take place at Powerleague, Portobello, from 12-2pm on Monday’s and Wednesday’s as well at Powerleague, Sighthill, on a Thursday (1-3pm) and is open to all. Robbie Wood, Street Soccer’s programme manager for Edinburgh, said: “The reaction from the players when we told them they would have access to the gym was one of complete surprise and then real excitement.

“The gym is extremely accessible for many of our players and they can’t wait to start using all of the equipment, the benefits of which we expect to see on and off the pitch. Many face social isolation, so, getting out of the house and trying something new can be a big step. The gym has been incredibly supportive so far, from offering our single-parent families the chance to bring their children, to encouraging players to work out together, to giving access to our volunteers who are not only a friendly face for our players but mentors to many.”

Paul Sanderson, general manager of Places Gym, added: “Seeing the reaction of the players coming into the gym has been fantastic and our members have been extremely welcoming. We see the benefit of exercise day in and day out so it’s wonderful to be able to extend the offer to Street Soccer players. We look forward to welcoming them throughout 2023 and working in partnership to support them on their fitness journey.

"The partnership promotes both individual and group activity, with the aim of strengthening bonds between Street Soccer players and their coaches but also developing links within the local community.”

Jonathan Tucket gives Street Scotland participants spin instruction.