SAFC players see homelessness is no barrier for fitness fanatics in Sunderland

published on 19 Oct 2018

Sunderland SAFC

Men and women experiencing homelessness in Sunderland are now able to boost their health through a new wellbeing and fitness garden and chill-out zone at a residential centre in the city.

On 16 October 2018 at 2 pm, Sunderland AFC players Duncan Watmore and Max Power officially opened Swan Lodge Lifehouse’s (High Street East SR1 2AU) Garden of Light that brings together outdoor fitness equipment in a peaceful chill-out zone next to the residential accommodation. Residents can enjoy a picnic on the artificial lawn, sit in the pagoda to take part in crafting or work up a sweat on the outdoor equipment – there is an air-walker, two sit-up benches, a stand and twist machine, cross-trainer and two dips bars for good measure.

Specialist support worker Stephen Park, who leads the sporting activities at the Lifehouse, said: “Every day we work with our residents to provide tailored support as they work towards rebuilding their lives after homelessness. Not only do we encourage them to share their vision for what they want to achieve, we also encourage them to consider their overall health and wellbeing – whether that’s through taking part in our cookery programme to make nutritious healthy meals or getting fit and active with our football team and now through our outdoor gym.

“Having faced challenging and often chaotic circumstances, residents can find that physical activity is a fantastic way to engage in meaningful activity that will provide additional health benefits, from breaking isolation to encouraging team work and also boosting their self-esteem. For those who struggle with substance misuse, sport also provides an excellent way to distract them with fringe benefits such as encouraging good mental health and building resilience. Anything we can do to support our residents in this way is a strong choice for us.”

Already there have been picnics on the artificial grass, coaching sessions (led by Stephen who is a qualified fitness coach) and plans are afoot for yoga-style sessions.

Stephen adds: “The calming environment provides another space offsite that residents can enjoy and take some time out for themselves to either improve their fitness and wellbeing or to simply relax and take stock of their day. Also, we’ve found that when residents take part in activities with our staff it helps build a strong relationship as they relax and have fun together leading to openness and honesty as residents seek support in tackling the obstacles in their lives. Many consider Swan Lodge Lifehouse to be a ‘lighthouse’, providing a light in dark times.

“We hope that as residents engage in the activities it will also encourage them to make this a starting point for becoming more active and to keep this up when they move on from Swan Lodge.”

Sunderland AFC forward Duncan Watmore said: “The new Garden of Light facility at Swan Lodge Lifehouse is a fantastic facility which is set to make a real difference to the residents’ health and wellbeing. Sport can play a big part in developing good mental health and boosting self-esteem, so it’s great that we are supporting such an important initiative.”

At present, there is a daily lunchtime session for staff and residents and further plans are in place for gym and yoga-style sessions to be included in a regular programme.

The garden’s name was decided by the residents, making a casual reference to Sunderland AFC’s Stadium of Light, which has partnered with the centre on a number of occasions to provide additional opportunities to the residents. The name also hints at the centre’s description as a ‘Lifehouse’.

In addition to the new gym, the residents can take part in further education courses, learn more about nutrition and cooking, be part of the football team, take part in camping trips and photography expeditions, all offered by the centre.