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Health and wellbeing project supports women during pandemic

A Blackburn project designed to build confidence for women through health and fitness has been able to continue during the coronavirus pandemic thanks to the support of Newground Together. 

Based at Unit 2 Fitness for Women in Mill Hill, The Billy Project offers free and discounted gym sessions for disadvantaged and vulnerable women with the aim of building confidence and tackling loneliness. But as with all gyms, it was forced to close its doors for the second time this year when Boris Johnson announced the latest measures to try and drive down the virus.  

Prior to the pandemic, Newground Together provided funding for the project to expand into venues such as schools and refuge centres, in a bid to break down barriers such as travel costs, childcare or fear of the unknown. 

The Billy Project on the Road enabled the staff at the gym to deliver sessions out in the community on topics such as nutrition, debt and sexual health to socially excluded women including victims of domestic abuse and those with drug and alcohol addictions. 

The funding enabled the project to adapt so it could still offer support to women over the phone and online throughout lockdown while the gym was closed. 

Kerry Cameron, who became a fitness instructor at the gym after using the service herself, said: “We had one woman whose marriage collapsed early on in lockdown and her family disowned her. We signposted her to help to find somewhere safe to live and after joining our online classes she started to feel more confident and less isolated. 

“We’ve also helped a single mum of two who was cut off from all support during lockdown. Her eldest daughter developed a huge fear of the virus, resulting in severe anxiety and agoraphobia. Subsequently mum couldn’t leave the house to go food shopping and her daughter was too afraid to go back to school after the first lockdown lifted. We stepped in to deliver essentials to the family and referred them to support with home education.” 

Belle Paterson, Community Development Officer at Newground, said: “The project targets some of the most vulnerable women in the community so it was really important that it continued during the pandemic.  

“Domestic violence, mental health and alcohol addiction have all been exacerbated as a result of changes in lifestyle and financial circumstances and isolation from support networks. We realised the service is more important now than ever to protect the most vulnerable women and girls at an extremely scary and anxious time.” 

While the gym has since reopened, places are limited and sessions must be booked online:

Following the success of the project, the Billy Project has introduced sessions aimed at inactive 11-18 year-old girls. The Billy Project Juniors offers funded classes four times a week, which aim to improve mental health and anxiety, reduce stress, increase confidence, promote body positivity and build friendships. During lockdown, all classes moved online and a WhatsApp group was set up to help the girls keep in touch. Now the gym has reopened, classes have been moved outdoors and the amount of equipment has been reduced to enable social distancing. 

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