Universal Channel's 100% Character Uncovered series is shining a light on people who inspire others through their extraordinary character. Introducing GoodGym founder, Ivo Gormley.
In 2007 I was one of the many people in the UK not doing exercise. I used to play a lot of basketball, all the time in fact throughout my teenage years until my mid-20s when I moved to a new part of town. I fell out of the way of it, and I didn't exercise for a year or so. Everyone was telling me to join the gym but I just wasn't into it - the idea of running for the sake of it didn't motivate me.
At the same time, I was finding out more and more about the problem of isolation and loneliness amongst older people. It's something that affects about a million people in the UK. As we all move about so much these days, we often don't live near our parents or our children. This means that large percentages of older people are left lonely, and hundreds of thousands see friends and family less than once a month. More broadly, it felt like something was broken in our cities that we could live so close to each other, but leave each other still alone.
So I started thinking about how to put these two problems together; how could exercise be useful again? What needed doing? I started running to deliver the newspaper to an older man called Terry Young. He lived not far from where I live in Tower Hamlets. He was a friend of a friend who I'd met briefly walking through the area a few years before. My friend had told me that Terry was now housebound and increasingly lonely - he was only 63 at the time. I thought I'd see if he'd be up for me visiting as a means of motivating me to run and a way of keeping him connected.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, I'd bring him the Sun. Running over to Terry's got me into running, and I slowly got faster and faster. Terry also used to encourage me, telling me I needed to do sit-ups and press-ups as well as the running. We got to know each other pretty well after a couple of years of visits. He's had an extraordinary life; travelling the world in the merchant navy, joining the parachute regiment in the army, boxing at the Red Lion Club, singing in pubs and clubs across town, and driving taxis around Shoreditch before becoming a painter and decorator. He refurbished the roof of Rifles nightclub in Enfield Lock singlehandedly.
I started thinking: why isn't everyone doing this? The idea is really simple - let's just combine getting fit with doing good. Slowly, I started getting others setup in similar relationships with older people; people seemed to like it, and something about it worked. As I had experienced first hand with Terry, both sides were getting something out of it.
During the first couple of years friends and organisations were telling me they couldn't see this working and it was hard to not let that stop me. There were a few times when I was there, waiting on my own for people to turn up for a run in the rain, thinking 'what am I doing with my life?'
We're used to the idea of gyms, and we're used the idea of doing something positive for other people, but doing both together is different and that's a difficult thing to get people to connect with. Persevering with the same message when initially people didn't really get it was tough, but the conviction I had in the idea was strong enough to sustain me until we were able to gain momentum.
There were bleak times of cold, wet lonely runs when I was trying to get others involved in group runs. Only once we'd started running group runs on a weekly basis did I start to feel a sense of community developing between the group of runners. GoodGym started to become part of people's day-to-day lives. Soon other people started working on it with me, and by 2012 we were working in 4 London boroughs and getting interest from people in other areas, in other cities and from all over the world. It started to feel very real. Today GoodGym is operating in 11 areas across the UK with a further six confirmed to start by January 2016.
GoodGym is now a community of over 1,200 runners with many different motivations for getting involved. That's still one of the things that makes me so excited about being involved; the positive and 'up for it' attitude of the runners, everyone is up for getting together and working hard for a common purpose. Some will run marathons in under three hours, some just want to clear their heads but they all want to make a difference to their local community.
Terry sadly died in 2013, and probably didn't understand what GoodGym had become, but his input was a big part of what made it possible. I always think about him when I run past Pitfield Street where he used to live.
GoodGym is an amazing way to explore your local area. It's a free to participate, and is going to give you a great workout with a qualified trainer. It's also an amazing way to feel part of the community you live in and working next to someone opens up unexpected conversations and connections. People often return back from runs with new friends.
I still get excited every time I hear a story of an amazing run or get notifications about people running faster times to help people who really need that help. Equally, I'm moved by all the connections people make; it's across areas and across generations. People have made friends, met boyfriends or girlfriends, seen new places and run further than they ever thought they could. There's a sense of purpose, and it's addictive.