Peckham Rye in south London has just become home to the country’s latest outdoor gym. The equipment in the park is green and shiny and huge. So they’re a vast improvement on the wooden parallel bars that have been a feature of the park since for ever and made you look like you’re exercising in a Carry On film.
Free outdoor gyms began appearing in Britain’s parks and public spaces last autumn and are steadily spreading across the country. They were inspired by gyms installed throughout China, to ready the nation for the Beijing Olympics, and have been developed over here by the Great Outdoor Gym Company, whose Georgie Tarrant and Matt Delaney were formerly of Sport England.
Most of the outdoor equipment requires you to push against gravity or your own bodyweight, so there are no weights to select. Charlotte Tarrant explains: “The load is gauged to be 30-40% of your bodyweight, so it would never be too strenuous for anyone…”
Different councils throw the gyms up for different reasons – London’s five Olympic boroughs all have one to prove that they are taking 2012 seriously, I guess. Strathclyde police organised one in an area rife with gang membership, hoping to combat antisocial behaviour, and have seen an 8% drop in crime.
Eric Firth, the councillor who was the driving-force behind the outdoor gym in Dewsbury in West Yorkshire, wanted something specifically for older users, and indeed, there’s a picture of an old person, heartily enjoying the facilities in the gym company’s promotional literature. In Peckham, I would say that the mean age was nearer 13. Smith and Reese, both 13, said that they use the stuff on their way to football. They both really liked it; they would both like free gym membership, too. They are profoundly sociable young men, but that must, surely, predate their resistance workout.
Some communities it will never work. The city of Albuquerque has put up systems which – unfortunately – were flammable. Local gangbanger idiots put paid to that.
OTOH, I’ve seen systems in steel with concrete roots. Kids love ’em. So do adults. Ain’t going to do anyone any harm to exercise in their neighborhood park.