Business of the week: HMHB’s ‘fantastic’ free fitness classes combat mental health issues

Lawrence Curtis (second left) leads ab Ajani group near Kings Cross as part of his Healthy Minds He

Lawrence Curtis (second left) leads ab Ajani group near Kings Cross as part of his Healthy Minds Healthy Bodies business. Picture: Lawrence Curtis - Credit: Archant

The Gazette hunts high and low each week to bring you news of the most interesting and unusual new businesses in Islington. This week, we profiled a business helping people overcome mental health issues through exercise

Twelve years ago, Highbury businessman Lawrence Curtis, 52, hit rock bottom. “I reached my lowest,” he said. “There were thoughts of suicide. I thought: ‘Is there any point?’”

Since then, he has answered his own question: “There is. You’ve got to have something to wake up for.”

This is now the philosophy behind his business Healthy Minds, Healthy Bods (HMHB), which helps Islington’s unemployed prevent mental health issues through exercise.

HMHB organises a weekly walk in Clissold Park and runs a four- to seven-week programme with a personal trainer. It focuses on positivity, inspired by Mr Curtis’ own experiences: “I wanted to be around people, I wanted to be outdoors. I wanted to feel myself getting better, to see it.”

When asked to describe the exercise groups, Mr Curtis says it’s a mix you would “never see normally”: an 83-year-old lady with a hip operation working out alongside people with alcohol and drug issues. The HMHB personal trainer is a former alcoholic himself.

“If you do something in a group you are opening up your vulnerability to people,” said Mr Curtis, who thinks 100 have been touched by the business since he set it up two years ago.

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Rosie Broadly was on the programme in 2017 and still loves to attend the fitness sessions. “My thought process has completely changed from ‘what’s wrong?’ to ‘how I can make this right?’” she said.

Mr Curtis, on Universal Credit himself, is worried the business will not be able to continue for much longer: “If we don’t get funding by April or May it’s going to have to stop.” HMHB has already approached Islington Council and local charities for funding, with little success due to tight budgets. Mr Curtis is now looking at corporate sponsorship, and is adamant his services will remain free: “The people who can’t afford it really need it.”

One fan is Jeremy Corbyn. “He came around to my flat on his bike and sat on my sofa,” said Mr Curtis.

“He said this could bring significant benefits.”