Green Gyms

Jonathan Lamberton breaks into a sweat with the Conservation Volunteers

Testosterone-filled rooms packed with sweaty bodies not your idea of exercise? With Conservation Volunteers you can now get fit in the fresh air and use your energy to help the environment.

The scheme, which runs throughout Northern Ireland and the UK, encourages volunteers to plant trees and clean up the countryside as an alternative to running nowhere on a treadmill or lifting weights only to set them back down again.

At the Green Gym volunteers develop skills that they can take home and use in their own gardens. Participants also learn valuable lessons in health as well as getting to meet a wide variety of new people.

In Northern Ireland, men make up the greatest number of the volunteers in the Green Gym but the idea that it is only for men is untrue. Women are most welcome at all the Green Gyms and those who do take part, like all, find it a brilliant way to spend an afternoon.

Almost all participants have seen their health improve with one participant claiming that it was the Green Gym that helped him to quit smoking.

In 2004 a new twist was added to the ‘green gym’ with the Dig it, Eat it scheme. This involved participants learning about growing garden vegetables,. So successful was the harvest that they scooped a number of awards at the ‘Autumn Fruit and Flower Show’ in Botanic Gardens in 2005.

Crops have included domestic garden vegetables as well as the more exotic rainbow chard and kohl rabi. This year sweet potatoes, black cabbage, amaranth and multi coloured carrots are all being experimented with. Never a dull day at this gym.

Green Gym has proven very successful among those who attend Day Care centres. At the gym they develop vital skills and exercise. There are also social benefits to working in a team towards a greater goal. All of the participants seem to have enjoyed the activities greatly with many carers saying that it has been a great help and very enjoyable for them too.

The 15 week courses run for around one hour a week and begin and end with a warm up and cool down session. Activities can vary from week to week with tree planting, path laying, bridge building, clean ups and the variety of vegetables associated with the ‘dig it, eat it’ scheme.

In the average gym, membership peaks in the New Year with the surge of post Christmas, New Year’s resolutions to lose the pounds but as the weeks and months go by only the hardy few remain committed. Green Gym has a membership retention rate of 90 per cent, a figure that most gyms would be very jealous of.

There are Green Gyms all across Northern Ireland with projects in every county. In Derry one green gym renewed parts of St Columb’s Park in the Waterside by planting new trees. The oak-filled Park is the site of the original city settlement with the ruins of St Columb’s church.

The majority of the trees in the park are towering giants in full maturity and the fear is that what happens when they are gone. Hence the green gym project.

Planting trees is just one of the Green gym’s many activities. If you are interested in using your energy to tidy up and help make our green spaces better get in touch with Conservation Volunteers. You will even be able to improve your health as well as that of the land.