Street Fit Scotland is an organisation created organically from a clear need, as our founder and CEO Michelle Reilly explains:
“I’ve worked with the homeless population for many years and I am often asked how I managed to stay so energetic and positive even on tough days when hearing traumatic stories of how the people have found themselves homeless. Every time I am asked, I would answer the same way – exercise gives me the mental and physical strength to meet each day with a smile.
In my previous frontline role working in hostels I started to take groups to the local gym as the residents were showing real enthusiasm to work out with me. The impact was phenomenal, so I built relationships with the coaches at the local gym and they delivered 2-3 weekly sessions for us. I’d like to thank Ross and Fraser for their support at the very beginning of my journey. The positive impact on everyone was immediately evident – it was so great to see! I began to get a core group of people wanting to come every week and it basically snowballed from there. I knew I was onto something so I set up Street Fit Scotland – and five years on we are a thriving service.
This began as a passion project for me but as the years have gone on it is clear there is real proven benefits to using exercise as means to combat long-term homelessness. Those who attend our classes regularly report enormous benefits to their mental and physical health. Having something positive to build healthy relationships around has created a great support network for our beneficiaries which is invaluable in a community filled with negative influences. The structure and routine involved with showing up each session influences other aspects of their lives too.
We don’t just put on an exercise class and leave at that. We provide a one-to-one counselling service, critical crisis support and drop ins, access to our IT suite so that people can bid for houses and support to fill in online benefit forms. We work alongside housing, social work, health, and G.P services as well as sign posting to relevant services. We provide nourishing meals after most sessions; we have created a compassionate community of people who are inspired to make a change for the better.
For some this has meant being able to beat addictions, volunteer with us, gain employment and get their lives back on track. I am enormously proud of what we have achieved so far, but I know there are many more people throughout Scotland who can benefit from our service. With your help we can reach more people!“
Experiencing homelessness leaves a lasting impact. At risk populations can live in temporary accommodation for up to two years before they gain their own tenancy. This includes Bed and Breakfasts, hostels, supported accommodation and Private Sector Leasing flats. They are often stuck in environments that are not always suitable for their situation and often insecure.
The instability of this situation can cause serious damage to mental health which permeates throughout an individual’s life.
Through this shared experience we are aiming to create a community for Scotland’s homeless population built on positive shared experiences and the relationships formed through our classes. This ultimately gives our participants a support network and friendships which reduces social isolation and poor mental health common in the homeless population.
In 2019 we delivered 260 fitness sessions. By engaging in just one of our classes each week our participants can improve their fitness and become healthier and stronger both mentally and physically. Being active has numerous benefits and has been proven to reduce depression, addiction, and a wide range of other issues. With something positive to focus on our participants can then improve in other aspects of their lives.
We use physical fitness and activities indoors and outdoors and now online fitness and well-being online groups to share lockdown coping strategies groups to build positive relationships and community connections. All our sessions are engineered to make people feel good and are always of a high standard. All coaches and instructors are PVG checked and fully qualified. All the fitness sessions are adapted to the individual needs of the groups we work alongside. We deliver a variety of sessions that are fun, free, and fantastic. These sessions include Muay Thai boxing training, cardio fitness classes, peer-led gym sessions, yoga, walking groups, Zumba dance and beach fit. On top of our full suite of fitness and wellbeing activities we also provide free lunches, water and fruit, sports clothing, and use of our community base, emotional support, and access to computers. SFS volunteers, staff and peer champions accompany individuals to appointments that they may feel anxious about going to on their own and ensure that they are supported to find the voice they need to gain better housing, health outcomes.
We value people who have a lived experience and there are opportunities for the participants to inspire others by becoming Peer Champions. Peer Champions are key to the delivery of the SFS service as they have experienced and overcame obstacles in their own lives. Peer Champions have added responsibilities at the sessions, and they are someone to look to if the participants need reassurance. They cannot be missed as they wear t-shirts with ‘Champion’ written on them. We believe that everyone at SFS can be a champion. The model we have created alongside participants is that they start as peer-champions then go on to volunteer with us at pace they choose. We hope that with the right funding opportunities we can soon offer paid employment our Peer Champions and volunteers.
At Street Fit Scotland we are committed to providing a research and community led approach to our services.
We have listened, learned, and adapted our programme throughout 2020 by gathering evidence using a variety of methodologies to cater for the differing needs and preferences of all who use the service. This has included graffiti boards around the community base asking specific questions on how we can improve the service for those who prefer to provide informal feedback, questionnaires, 1 to 1 interview for those with literacy issues and feedback through our thoughts and feelings honesty book for those who prefer complete anonymity.
Gathering data in this way has allowed us to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard. You can read more on these findings in our 2019/20 Annual Report here.