AN INSPIRATIONAL gym owner in Littlehampton has launched an innovative scheme which he hopes will defeat the stigma of addiction and mental health problems.
Chris Smith runs the Wee Old Skool Gym in Arcade Road.
However, he has taken the bold decision to close his gym on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons to run special sessions – completely free of charge – for those with mental health and addiction issues.
The 32-year-old said he was keen to offer a community service and added he would be using his own life experiences to support those people during the sessions.
Chris, who in his past overcame his own mental health and addiction problems, said: “I can use my life experience to give a bit back and help others who need it.
“I don’t judge, I listen to them. If they’re in a hole, I will get in that hole with them and give them that helping hand to get out of it.
“I know what they are going through and I know how they feel.”
Chris has already opened up his gym for two local charities, Littlehampton’s Coastal West Sussex Mind, in Maltravers Drive, and Arun Exact, based in Wick.
He provides a tailor-made service and program for individuals, with custom workout routines and special diets.
Sharon Cuerden, Arun service manager for Coastal West Sussex Mind, said the scheme was already having a positive impact for those who used Mind.
She said eight of the charity’s clients, who are dealing with mental health issues, took part in their first session on Tuesday, with many enjoying it.
“I’m just so grateful that there are people like Chris around who will take the time to dispel the stigma surrounding mental health and work with organisations like ourselves in supporting local people in the community for their own benefits,” she said.
“This has a positive impact on their physical health which then affects their mental health.
“They’re quite anxious about going to a gym where they expect lots of people who are fit and well to be.
“Sometimes our service users may have poor body image, low confidence and feel isolated. What Chris is doing is very beneficial in building their confidence and self-esteem.”
Chris is currently in the process of turning his gym into a registered charity.
In the future, he hopes he will be able to expand his scheme and build upon it, working with other charities.
His efforts have been welcomed by West Sussex county councillor for Littlehampton town, Ian Buckland.
Mr Buckland – who is also a trustee at the gym – said: “It’s really great to have someone who wants to do something to serve his community.
“You read and hear about how River Ward and Ham Ward are deprived areas where a lot of people don’t get the support they might need.
“But here is a local gym offering that support which I think is great. It’s a yes, yes, yes in my book.”
The gym operates its special session for Mind on Tuesdays, from noon until 1.30pm and for Arun Exact on Thursdays, from 2-3pm.
For more details, call Chris on 07557 947625 or email email@example.com