Women only exercise class breaking down barriers in Barnsbury

Paula Hernandez (back, third from left) with some of the members of her new exercise group.

Paula Hernandez (back, third from left) with some of the members of her new exercise group. - Credit: Archant

Twenty-seven nationalities make up a women-only exercise class which is helping build a community in Barnsbury.

More than 70 females aged 15 to 82, have been getting fit, making friends and having fun t­ogether since December.

The free classes at Barnsbury Community Centre are the brainchild of personal trainer Paula Hernandez and Newlon Fusion housing trust.

They allow Muslim women to exercise away from the eyes of men.

The women say the group is like a family, with mothers and daughters attending together.

They now plan to set up their own community association.

Miss Hernandez, who runs the classes, said: “What I’ve found in this area is that we’ve only just started to break down the trust barriers where you get Bengali women mixing with Albanians and Ghanaians.

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“I don’t just get them to come and jump around. I’m teaching them about physiology, showing them exercises they can do at home. It’s holistic as well as being about keeping fit.”

Syeda Huda, 43, of Killick Street, is a Muslim mother who had found it very difficult to find exercise opportunities that fit in with her cultural and religious beliefs. She was made redundant from her job at a college and has been encouraged to exercise ­after suffering a stroke.

“I used to go to all-female swimming sessions, but the lifeguard was male so it wasn’t ideal,” said Mrs Huda. “These classes are a dream come true for me.

‘‘I’ve got teenage children and a 16-month-old baby, but my children and husband encourage me.”

Most of the members come from surrounding estates such as Barnsbury and Copenhagen and would not be able to afford to pay for classes at a gym,

At 82, Topsy Solon is the oldest member of the group and says the class is already making a big difference to her. “I’m getting stronger and my tummy is getting flatter,” she said. “I get lots of smiles here and everybody is so happy. We all pull terrible faces while we’re exercising and have a good laugh.”

The group is developing into a forum where ideas are shared and the women are playing a leading role in setting up a community association alongside Newlon Fusion.

Miss Hernandez said: “We all share ideas from our different cultures and help each other to improve our lifestyles. It’s all about loving yourself and that’s why I encourage them to kiss themselves during the sessions.”