A PONTYPOOL gym which emphasises the importance of mental as well as physical health is going from strength to strength after picking up a number of awards at the Welsh Fitness Awards.

High Street Fitness took over the former New Look building on George Street in November 2020.

The gym, which is a registered charity, now has around 850 members, of which around 37 per cent have never attended a gym before.

And last weekend, at the Welsh Fitness Awards, the gym won Entrepreneur of the Year and Gym of the Year, and got a bronze award for its response to Covid. This is in addition to winning the Trustee of the Year Award at the Torfaen Voluntary Awards in October.

“The whole purpose was to break down the barriers of health and wellbeing,” said Dan Crandon, co-founder of the gym. “It’s not just about coming in and going to the gym – people’s mental health is just as important.

“The doors are open for people – even if they just want to come in and have a cup of tea.

“I think it’s really underestimated the importance of just being able to talk to someone, so we’ve always got someone on the desk. And even just walking on the treadmill or cycling on a bike can release endorphins.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is there is someone from all walks of life in our facility. It’s a brilliant environment to work in and be involved in.”

“It’s run for the community, but the community,” said Mr Crandon.

“We have around 26 volunteers who keep the place open and run the place.

“It’s either to give people work experience or for people who have be out of work for a long time a chance to regain their confidence or get working again. And some volunteer to help beat loneliness.

“We offer personal trainers three or four months at zero cost while they build their business, and then after that we ask that they give some time working here – be that on the desk, running a hoover around, or running a class.

“In the current financial climate, it’s important for us to keep prices down so that people can invest in their mental and physical wellbeing.

“Every Saturday afternoon and bank holiday is free access - you don’t have to be a member.

“It’s a chance for people to give something new a go. It’s aimed at helping people who have never even thought of going to the gym before an opportunity to work on their physical and mental health.”

The gym didn’t have the easiest route to opening its doors, as it was established during the course of the pandemic.

“We coined the idea and registered the charity in the summer of 2020,” said Mr Crandon. “We then carefully selected a location. We wanted to revive the high street a little bit.

“Due to the pandemic New Look was shutting, so we went about taking over from them.

“We then started searching for funding and kit. It cost myself and Paul Thomas, one of the other founders, a lot of money to keep the doors open. But we put our money where our mouth is as it’s a project we really believed in.

“We opened the doors at the beginning of May 2021.

“It’s really pleasing that everyone’s bought into it. It’s been an honour.”

You can find out more at hsfuk.org.