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9 Aug 2006

In an attempt to encourage more women and girls to become more active in Aberdare, staff at the Michael Sobell Sports Centre have been adopting some alternative approaches.

Recognising that the gym and traditional fitness classes don’t feature on many women’s radar, the sports development unit have been thinking up some new ways of getting people through the door and towards a fitter and healthier future.

Cashing in on the pre-Christmas fad to shape up for the festive period, centre staff last year signed up 30 members to the newly established women only ‘Mile High Running Club’.

With the Nos Galan road race as the goal, the novice runners immersed themselves in training for the Year’s Eve event in Mountain Ash. But while many a fad ends all too abruptly, the mile highers proved their running commitment had legs by carrying on at the club in the new year.

New Year resolutions caused another influx of members and membership soon swelled to over 100. Having started out with one training day a week, the weight of numbers brought about an extra weekly session. Runners are now regularly turning up to both sessions and turnout averages 60. Catering for all abilities and fitness levels, sessions are split based on pace. And for those not satisfied with the two evening sessions an early morning session meets at the centre once a week.

Carolyn Lewis, a regular runner at the club said, "I love the social side of the running club everyone is so friendly and motivating. I could barely run a mile before and now I can run five! It’s made me realise the importance of exercise on my health."

The success of the mile high running club has prompted the sports development team to experiment with some new activities in an attempt to draw even more women and girls into physical activity. Steered by the buzzwords ‘sociable’ and ‘fun’, summer rounders made its return to the sports centre. A Community Chest grant from the Sports Council for Wales funded a four week taster training session, pitch costs and training costs to help preparations for the ‘Sobells Rounders League’, running from May through to September. Eight teams featuring 50 women were brought together for a healthy dose of competition, rounded off with a post match social get together.

Replacing rounders at the season end in September will be another new addition to the sporting programme. Taster triathlon sessions are scheduled and both men and women, giving newcomers the opportunity to experiment before committing to the club. Qualified instructors will lead at least one training session will be held per week per discipline, and tuition will be available for triathlon beginners.

Emma Morgan, activity organiser from Sobells said:

"The great thing about the sessions is that they are attracting women and girls who are not members of the Zenith Gym and do not participate in fitness activities. The difficult part isn’t getting people through the door but making sure they come back every week. Drop off is common but we’ve managed to keep numbers high by making activities enjoyable, accessible and non-competitive.

"For these women this is their first step to becoming more active, their first step to having a healthier lifestyle."

Since 1999 the Sports Council’s National Lottery funded Community Chest scheme has spread its prize pot to just under 10,000 projects Wales wide, providing opportunities for people living in every area of Wales to get out there and active.

Communities across the principality have reaped the rewards of the Sports Council’s commitment to creating new and improved sport and physical activity opportunities.

Traditionally supporting sports clubs and sporting organisations, the remit has since expanded in response to the Welsh Assembly Government’s Sport and Physical Activity Strategy ‘Climbing Higher.’ So while the scheme is still supporting traditional sports and activities, it is also adopting alternative approaches to getting more people more active, more often. Priority has shifted to delivering opportunities for everybody to engage in physical activity, whether that be during work time, spare time, social time or retirement.

The Sports Council for Wales is urging more projects in Rhonnda Cynon Taff to come forward to apply for the £71,712 of Community Chest funding available to the area. For more information and to find out whether your project is eligible for a grant worth up to £750, please contact your local authority sports development team.