Back in August 2015, the YMCA Inclusive Lives project was set up to increase supportive art, dance and exercise activities for people with a disability and those with a mental illness, in partnership with local authorities, charities and community organisations. Activities have been taking place across YMCA St Paul’s Group centres in Kingston, Richmond and Merton as well as other community centres and their success has been overwhelming.
The project is funded for three years by a Big Lottery Grant of over £300,000 and has helped over 200 people try out new activities throughout the last year alone.
“Our aim is to reach out to as many people with a disability as possible,” says Inclusive Lives Project Co-ordinator Hayley Turner. “We have a whole range of activities to offer, with something to suit everyone”.
The activities people can participate in range from dance and fitness, multisports, line dancing, yoga, Zumba as well as supported gym sessions. The classes are open to all ages over 16, and are led by caring and professional instructors. One such class is the Dance Project which is held at YMCA Wimbledon every Wednesday. There are two sessions that take place on Wednesdays: 10.45am-11.30am, and then 11.30am-12.15pm.
Local organisations bring their members along to take part, like Generate, a charity for people with learning disabilities based in Wandsworth. One of the aims of the charity is to get people to live more independently within their community.
Tutor Amy Ferguson accompanies the people who attend the class and has noticed a big change in some of them, thanks to the efforts of the dance teacher. “One of our ladies has very poor balance, but because of this class her co-ordination has really improved.”
Andrew, 44, has been regularly attending the sessions since the spring. “I really like everything about this class, the dancing, the music, the teacher – it’s great!”
Another activity that has taken off is the healthy lifestyle focussed Live Well Be Well class at YMCA White House in Hampton. The session is run in two halves; the first is dedicated to nutrition and eating well, while the second is all about fitness.
Robin, 27, lives in Whitton with his mum. He found out about Live Well Be Well through Richmond Homes & Lifestyle Trust. “I come along because I want to keep healthy and I find the sessions very interesting,” says Robin. He also keeps fit by cycling around Whitton and Twickenham.
Lee, 46, lives in Feltham with his brother and his mum. He comes along to Live Well Be Well to keep fit, as he has struggled with being overweight in the past. He has enjoyed previous Inclusive Lives sessions at YMCA White House: “Laughs and scarves was good! I already knew a few of the ladies, and it was much more fun than I thought it was going to be”.
Rachel, 28, lives in Teddington with her friend Siobhan. She wants to keep fit and she likes the nutrition part of the session, learning about portion sizes and healthy swaps. “I go to the gym a few times a week, and like to keep healthy”.
For those who love contemporary dance, Creative Movement has proved to be a big hit in Kingston with its close links with professional dance company Ballet Boyz. It encourages people with disabilities to explore movement and dance, and to get creative. Dancers from BalletBoyz surprised the group recently by joining in with one of their sessions. Fleur Taylor-Sutton, Creative Learning producer at BalletBoyz, says: “Our dancers from BalletBoyz were thrilled to join in with Creative Movement’s session – what an experience to dance with such a wonderful group of young people”.
Creative Movement returns for the autumn on Tuesday 13 September, 7pm-8pm, open to anyone with a disability aged over 14, plus there is an additional class in October for adults during the daytime. Although staff and volunteers cannot offer one to one support, people are welcome to attend with a carer or support worker. You can see members of Creative Movement perform at Unlimited (celebrating the artistic vision and originality of disabled artists) on 11 September.
Amy attends with her friend Rosie, aged 24, who has Down’s Syndrome and has this to say: “I have never seen Rosie fit into somewhere so quickly and that is completely down to your staff. It is such an amazing class that you run and it was so nice to be in such a supportive and loving environment”.
For more information about the Inclusive Lives Project, go to https://ymcastpaulsgroup.org/inclusive-lives/