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The Tories are taking away from disabled people with one hand, and outright stealing with the other. I recently received a message from the user of one depleted service, asking me to spread the word. I recognised it as a gym that I had once been recommended to use myself when I was unable to do my physiotherapy exercises on my own, so I was shocked to hear that many of its services, including the ones I had been recommended, were no longer available.

Ability Bow is located in the heart of East London, and was set up in a disused church after a community campaign in 1998. It accepts both disabled and non-disabled members, with programmes tailored to each person’s ability and goals. Disabled and elderly people are frequently referred from their GP, so that they can benefit from what Ability Bow offers. It’s no surprise that the gym is described as “busy” with the amount it offers, including specialist sessions for stroke patients, people with MS, people with learning disabilities and, still on the website as “starting soon”, a programme for D/deaf and hard of hearing members. From 2006-2016, over £2.3 million was raised so that 3650 disabled members could exercise safely and with supervision  – the gym is wheelchair accessible, with accessible changing rooms, equipment, showers and even a sauna! 

Most of the people we work with have had a life-changing event such as a stroke or spinal injury or the diagnosis of a long-term condition like MS or Parkinson’s Disease. We accept referrals from GPs, physiotherapists and other Health or Social Care professionals and we have no exclusion criteria – we do not turn anyone away no matter how complex their disability making Ability Bow the only service of its kind in London. – from the Ability Bow website

The Ability Bow gym is an active, and beneficial part of both the East London and disability communities. However, in October 2016, due to a lack of adequate government funding, Ability Bow was made to cut half their professional staff and subsequently many of their services. Currently the Ability Bow gym is only open for those who can exercise without close supervision (after their initial supervised introductory sessions), which leaves 60% of their membership, who have been referred from their doctors and need more support or 1:1 sessions, without any gym services at all (the nearest similar service is in Birmingham). This is a huge blow to the regular users, who now have no support to exercise, and also a self-defeating move from the government – the long-term rehabilitation offered by the gym reduced hospital admissions, physiotherapy needed, and amount of medication and care needed in several disabled gym members surveyed. The money saved by cutting the gym services will be added onto the additional cost for the NHS and social services. It’s not just the exercise either – the members no longer catered for are missing out on socialisation, interaction, familiarity; things many severely disabled people lack due to a rotation of unfamiliar carers and lack of support.

The testimonies speak for themselves:

“My daughter uses the gym regularly. She is long term disabled. She no longer gets regular physio. The reason is funding cut. The excuse is that she has the gym to keep her agile. Now the gym is being affected by cuts! What a disgrace. The top priority for funding in the city should be important projects like this!” – Akiva

“My wife is a user of Ability Bow. It is a rehabilitation centre as welll as a gym. My wife was always falling due to her poor balance and mobility limitations. Use of the the specialist/adapted equipment at Ability Bow and the support from staff has helped her build strength and develop confidence which in turn has reduced her falls and visits to A&E. As her carer, Ability Bow helps me to help her, Please save Ability Bow” – Joseph

“I have worked here for the last 7 years and it’s one of only 2 or 3 gyms in the country that caters for people with serious health conditions with specialised equipment.I have loved working at this gym and seeing the life changing impact it has had for clients.” – Andrew

“…my wonderful sister attends the gym and has benefited immensely. The staff and centre do fantastic work helping some of the most vulnerable and often forgotten members of the community. The gym provides a much needed and invaluable service.” – Mary

You can find more testimonies, and information on how to help campaign to restore the gym’s services at the Ability Bow website or on the campaign’s Facebook page. 

There is a 38 Degrees petition here, and enquiries on Twitter can be directed to @DJ_Paperwork