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An island community land trust has funded free gym membership for the over-65s and a companion tandem bike for people with additional needs in order to break down the barriers that prevent people accessing sport and recreation.

Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn (Galson Estate Trust) provided the funding to enable Spòrsnis to provide the free gym membership to the over-65s and to buy the bike which allows people who would struggle cycling by themselves to be taken for a spin. It is hoped the bicycle will be enjoyed by the elderly and infirm as well as younger people with additional needs. The bike cost £4,200 and its purchase was largely covered by the Urras with a £4,000 grant to Ness Sports and Recreation Association (NRSA) in August, under the banner of ‘Fitness Outreach: Removing Barriers’.

The bike, which comes from Holland, has very recently arrived in Glasgow and is expected in Ness before Christmas. MacRitchie Highland Distribution is helping with transportation.

The £4,000 grant from the Urras follows three previous grants from the community investment fund, established by the Urras as the vehicle for distributions of donations from community energy company Galson Energy Ltd. NRSA were granted £1000 for each eligible project through the fund — a chemical waste point, soft play equipment and the Peter May guided tours.

The latest money, though, is targeted at overcoming barriers to physical activity and is part of the Urras vision to help everyone on the Galson Estate live life to the fullest.

The focus on helping the elderly, in particular, is one of the three priority areas for development, as set out in the Strategic Plan for 2017 to 2037, drawn up by the Urras after extensive community consultation to determine how people in the area wanted the Trust to make best use of its income from the turbines.

The other priority areas are tourism and crofting / land use — but there is also the overall vision of a “high quality of life” for all, manifested in a wide range of local services, improved social and recreational facilities and eradicated fuel poverty, which the Urras is already working to tackle, via its LED lighting project in partnership with Tighean Innse Gall and Carloway Estate Trust.

Urras chair Agnes Rennie said they were delighted to be able to help break down some of the barriers to sport and recreation.

She said: “The health and wellbeing of the community is significantly important and projects like NSRA’s free gym membership are contributing to improving health and the quality of lives.

“We hope to work with some other organisations throughout 2018 to establish a programme of physical activity to support seniors to enjoy exercise and to have further opportunities to socialise. Sometimes it really is just about removing small barriers and we hope the investment fund and the support and advice provided can help with that.”

Welcoming the Fitness Outreach funding, Alastair Dunlop said: “The Urras have been pretty good to us.” He hopes the free membership for the over-65s — and membership of only £10 a month for the over-60s — will help get the fitness message out there and dispel the myth that gyms are just for gym bunnies.

“I wish people would get away from this idea sometimes that gyms are for fit people. That’s not what they are for. It’s about prevention. Prevention is better than cure.”

A retired PE teacher and keen athlete, Alastair admitted his wife would say he was “a bit obsessed with health and fitness” but nevertheless he believes that people in general now live more softly than they used to.

As a result, some only end up exercising after having had a health shock, such as a stroke or mini heart attack. “If they had done the walking beforehand, they maybe wouldn’t have had the mini heart attack or stroke. But we’re talking about the whole Scottish population,” he conceded.

Alastair wants to see more people take up exercise as a pre-emptive measure — and take advantage of free gym access during the winter.

One couple who have recently taken up that offer are Alison and Donald John Campbell from Lionel, both aged over 65.

Alison is working on recovering her fitness after serious illness and managed to persuade Donald to join her. They go five mornings a week for an hour and use most of the machines.

Alison said the free gym membership scheme was “excellent” and was encouraging people of her age to use the facility.

It had taken “a lot of pressurising” from her, she said, to get her husband to go to the gym as he was more of “an outdoor person”. However, he had agree to it in order to keep exercising during the bad weather to keep his fitness up.

Donald admitted he had been “a wee bit sceptical” beforehand — “but it turns out that I quite enjoy it and, of course, because we can’t go out in this weather, we need to do something, otherwise it would drive you mad.”

The free membership, he said, was “a good message to put out”, adding: “I like to think I feel the difference. It might be only in the mind but wherever the mind goes, the body follows. But the long and the short of it is, I quite enjoy it and it’s such a good facility. More people should be encouraged.”

He added: “I would like to see more of the older people down there and I’m sure there’s plenty of them sitting watching the telly all day, twiddling their thumbs — and once you sink into that rhythm, it’s very hard to get out of it. I think the secret is, once you retire… get busy!”

The community had also been looking forward to the arrival of its companion bike, which Spòrsnis will offer buddy introductions to, as part of the service.

Alastair Dunlop explained that it works like a tandem, with seats side by side. The centre had borrowed a similar one from Voluntary Action Lewis in the summer and it was such a hit that they looked into buying their own.

The bike does require an able-bodied person to take charge of it but the passenger can also help the pedalling if they want to.

One young person who was eagerly anticipating the bike’s arrival was Ann Macleod, 14, from Cross. Ann, who has Mosaic Down Syndrome, went for a ride on a similar bike in the summer, with mum Christine in the driving seat, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Christine said: “It’s great that they’re getting it because Ann will be able to use the bike with me or any other adult with her. You can ride along the roads and the car park area and it will give her some exercise and plus we can ride it together!

“We’re hoping to use it as often as possible when it comes. I’m hoping to maybe try and get her out once or twice a week. She loves being on the bike. She really enjoyed it and it gives us an excuse to do exercise together and spend time together. “It’s going to be available to everyone. I think there will probably be a lot of use out of it. It will be pretty popular.”

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