Suffolk Refugee Support Keep Fit

"I've realised we all have so much in common, despite different religions, backgrounds and cultures. "

The Unity Centre is a hub in the heart of Whitton in Ipswich, which has become a base for a number of local organisations to connect with and deliver their services from.

Funding for this new facility was made possible by the national Community Ambitions Fund, in partnership with the Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care System and the Colchester & Ipswich Hospitals Charity along with the Captain Tom Foundation.

Organisations based at the hub include P.H.O.E.B.E which provides information and advocacy to BAME women; Fresh Start New Beginnings, offering therapeutic support to children and young people who have reported sexual abuse and their families; Suffolk Refugee Support, offering practical advice and support to refugees and asylum seekers and of course Chris from the Health and Wellbeing team from Active Suffolk!

In addition to the delivery of the Active Wellbeing Service for older adults in the area, Chris has also worked to map the local physical activity opportunities, whilst also supporting partners within the consortium to set up and offer exercise for their clients.

An example of this work is the set-up and delivery of Keep Fit classes every Monday for women connected with Suffolk Refugee Support. The hourly session is delivered by local Instructor Rachel Bond from The Fitness Unit in Ipswich.

Rachel has enjoyed supporting the group and told us:

"The weekly class is definitely helping the women to improve their physical fitness as well as their mental wellbeing.

I make sure I touch on other things during the session such as breathing, and posture and over the weeks the women have gained better knowledge of different body parts and muscles which is great, but it is also supporting them with the development of the English language.

The class has helped to build a community, where everyone now comes into the class and says hello, so they are all benefitting from the social side of the sessions too."

The class first launched in April 2022 but has grown in numbers, where 10 -15 women now regularly attend, all from very different backgrounds. Within the group there is representation from Kosovo, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan to name just a few.

One participant explains the benefit that this class and community has had, not only on her physical wellbeing but on her understanding of different cultures too:

"I have been coming to the session for just a few weeks, but it is really good and suits my schedule as it is local, and I can fit it in during my lunchbreak. Before coming I would exercise at home, following videos on YouTube but this was on my own.

I really enjoy the class, but I also really enjoy the opportunity meet others and learn about everyone else's culture.

Having this exercise class, allows us all to understand one another and accept who we all are. It is very difficult when you come from another country and sometimes you can generalise people and assume people from other parts of the world may be a certain way, and sometimes you can lack trust.

By coming together, we are getting to know each other and seeing each person as an individual. All the ideas that "your own culture is the best" is not right, we all have good things to share. We have realised we all have so much in common, despite different religions, backgrounds and cultures.

Without the class, we would have not all come together and learnt about one another. Each person is very different, and you learn from everyone."

For one participant, the class is now such an important part of her weekly routine, that she even walked for one hour when she was unable to catch a lift to meet with the women and participate in exercise. She told us:

"I have been coming along to the class for two months. Catherine from Suffolk Refugee Support told me about the session, and I am enjoying the exercise although I do have a problem with my leg. I have had pain for 3 years but before coming to the class I hadn't ever done any exercise. I feel good after the exercise and my clothes are now loose as I have lost weight.

I also feel much happier, being active helps me with everything. I like to see my friends at the class and move the body – I have even made new friends here.

Rachel is a very good teacher too!"

The impact the session has had on the women often goes beyond them coming along to the class, and for one participant, exercise is now a part of her children's routine at home too!

"The class is very good and before I came, I had not done any exercise for a very long time. After the class I feel very happy and less stressed. It is good for the body but the mind as well.

I have four children, but I can attend this class whilst they are in school. Since doing this class I have started to exercise at home too and my children join me."