Why I’m campaigning to save inner London’s only disability gym

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I was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy (LGMD2a) when I was 19 and I started using a wheelchair after falling and shattering my kneecap. I was stubbornly walking and falling for years before I was forced to do it but the change was probably the best thing I ever did. I can go much further than before and am in a lot less pain.

I try keep my heart healthy with hydrotherapy, physio and gym every week. I have been going to Ability Bow for three years now. It is the only disability gym in London’s zones 1-4. They have trained staff, wheelchair accessible equipment and the option of one to one ongoing long term rehabilitation all for £4.50 a session. They cater to people with any kind of injury, long term health condition or physical or mental disability.

There are thousands of people like me that Ability Bow has helped in the ten years it has served the community. Their waiting list is more than a hundred people long. Of the people the NHS refers to Ability Bow more than 60% go on to need the long term rehabilitation service which now sadly no longer exists.

Demand has increased while funding has actually reduced. To keep the gym open they have already had to make half their staff redundant and cut their core service of subsidised ongoing long term one to one rehabilitation. The most vulnerable people here are the ones losing access to ongoing support, for them the gym has already closed.

There are people who have been written off who could not feed themselves who are now running on the treadmills, thanks to this service. There is a cancer patient with a back broken in two places who was a wheelchair user and is now walking everywhere. This place has worked miracles and fundamentally transformed peoples lives for the better.

People with preexisting medical conditions are a lot more vulnerable to complications without exercise that could cost them their lives. There are lots of services for healthy people but as soon as you have a complex need and are at higher risk there is significantly less opportunity to exercise. Active people need less medication, see doctors less, relapse less, have fewer falls, fewer fractures and are more likely to go back to work. Treating the complications will cost the NHS a lot more than funding a gym to prevent them in the first place.

I started a 38 Degrees petition to raise awareness about the gym. I have no experience running campaigns, very few spoons and have never used Twitter. In the first week I had 500 signatures. In the second week that more than tripled to 1600 and we had an ITV news spot. And I’ve had a documentary maker from the BBC offering to do the campaign video for free. What seemed like an unwinnable fight now seems like there is a chance of actually achieving something.

I need help from anyone who can offer it. Please sign the petition, share the link, write to your MP, contact disability organisations, tweet every Olympian or celebrity who might care.

The petition can be found at https://you.38degrees.org.uk/p/abg


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