News | 4 August 2021

Empowering people with easier access to exercise

Making fitness more accessible has helped two Wellingtonians gain confidence and improve their health.

Paul sitting with a long grey beard and beanie on his head, with Alex on his right seated on a chair, neatly dressed and smiling, and Ray Tuffin with short hair and glasses, also seated, facing the other two having a chat on a large red Persian rug and church pews behind.
Paul (left) and Alex (centre) having a lively catch-up with Wellington City Mission Community Development Manager, Ray Tuffin.

In Newtown, at the end of Gordan Place, sits Wellington City Mission (WCM) – a charity that provides support with food, housing, finances, and in emergencies, to families and individuals.

Well dressed, intelligent and articulate, Alex Colebrooke is a regular WCM guest and through the organisation he says he has found a supportive and welcoming community.

Sociable and funny, Paul Taylor has also found a sense of belonging with WCM, following many years of rough sleeping.

Something that has really benefited Alex and Paul has been access to exercise.

WCM is a member of Wellington City Council’s LeisureCard scheme, which aims to make sure all Wellingtonians can use the city’s public recreation facilities.

Through this partnership, the pair received LeisureCards that gives them discounted rates to Council-owned swimming pools, gyms, and recreation centres.

“I started exercising after last year’s covid lockdown and it’s helped me break some bad habits,” says Paul, 56. “I gave up sugar and I’ve been able to give up my heart pills.

“It’s given me way more energy. I haven’t been very well for a number of years and I still have health problems, but swimming has strengthened my core so I can do a lot more stuff. I’m definitely feeling healthier, and I’ve lost quite a lot of weight.”

For Alex, his primary gain has been confidence and an optimistic outlook.

“I’ve been going to Freyberg Pool and Fitness Centre four times a week,” says the 49-year-old.

“The biggest thing for me is the phycological aspect. It’s not just building muscle, it’s building energy. I love going in the sauna. I can be chatting to a millionaire, a manager, someone who’s unemployed. We always have amazing chats, and you learn something. It’s been really positive.”

Alex has bipolar, so even though he has several university qualifications, he says it’s a challenge to hold onto a fulltime job.

“When I look back at my work life, it’s been quite chequered. It’s virtually impossible to get a job when you say you have a mental illness. Over the years I’ve put in a lot of effort to get steady work – I feel I have a lot to offer and I’m wanting to use what I‘ve learned.

“However, I have been living on a benefit for so long and that’s been my only stable income, with about 65 percent going on rent.”

Because of this, gym memberships have largely been a luxury which Alex hasn’t always been able to afford. So gaining access to the LeisureCard has been a gamechanger.

“It’s absolutely fantastic. The positive stimulation with endorphins, it’s a natural high. Working out is like a meditation. I feel darn good and I’m maintaining a healthy weight.”

Likewise, Paul is grateful for the opportunities presented by WCM, saying he has come a long way.
Paul with a long grey beard, a beanie, and glasses, in blue jeans and jersey, seated on a row of colourful chairs, indoors against a white cinderblock wall.

“Exercise helps in many ways. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. Now I’m going to the pool two to four times a week.

“I have done a lot of homelessness. Most of the 1980s I lived on the streets. In the ‘90s I graduated to a car, then in the mid-to-late ‘90s I became an executive homeless man, upgrading to a van.

“For the past four years I’ve lived in a state house that WCM got for me. A lot of things have changed. I’ve become more spiritual and more caring. These guys here at WCM, what they do is the real deal. It has taught me unconditional love.”

Wellington City Mission Community Development Manager, Ray Tuffin, says through exercise, Alex and Paul’s new-found confidence is helping them create meaningful social connections.

“They are dressing better and have more self-pride.”

Ray says the LeisureCard can be really mana enhancing for people.

“It’s heartbreaking that we have a society in which if you’re below the poverty line, often you can’t be active.

“Giving these people access to exercise allows them to feel valued and creates confidence and wellness. There are many positive offshoots to exercise, like making better decisions, feeling better about oneself, and breaking feelings of isolation. It opens up doors and new opportunities.”

Find out more about the LeisureCard.

Find out more about Wellington City Mission.