On a residential square in Kennington, local Simon Garner is bringing his community together through aerobics – at a safe distance, of course. With each doorstep positioned a handy two metres apart and each house having a run-up of steps to the front door, Garner was inspired to come up with On Your Step, a communal aerobics workout for all his neighbours.
He now hosts classes twice a week and encourages people to get creative with their ‘equipment’ – from broomheads to pot noodles, anything goes. Although not a fitness instructor, Garner is a seasoned marathon runner and regularly does extreme fitness challenges for charity, which is why he wanted to get people moving during these strange times.
I live in Lambeth in Kennington and we’re all in Georgian houses in a lovely old square, with a garden in the middle. It’s a bit like Albert Square in ‘EastEnders’, I suppose – there’s even a pub on the corner. When all this happened a couple of weeks ago, we set up a WhatsApp group and I was speaking with one of my neighbours and said: should I do some sort of motivational movement class?
My neighbours are all different ages. We’ve got families here, a house of five lads who are students, we’ve got people who have lived in these houses for over 60 years, people who’ve been born in these houses – it’s a great mix. We’re not all fitness freaks in any way.
I’m a creative person and I love fitness and I thought: Bloody hell we’ve got seven steps outside our house and everyone else has too – let’s see what we can do. I’m not a trained fitness instructor but I do know lots of exercises from all my running and stuff – it’s good to see different people joining in.
It’s not a gruelling workout. We might be using sweeping brushes to ‘Let’s Get Loud’ by J-Lo or stretching to ‘Hakuna Matata’. People are stretching out on their doorsteps with their brooms in their hands. I’m always screaming: don’t touch anything or anyone!
The night before a session, my housemate Katie and I have quite a few glasses of wine and we come up with a 30-minute camp playlist and we send it to everyone. It starts off with ‘Good Morning’ by Debbie Reynolds and finishes with ‘Fraggle Rock’. We try and practise some routines but we don’t really know what we’re doing – that’s the fun of it.
In the morning, Katie rides around on the bike in the square blowing her horn and playing music from a ghetto blaster. We shout ‘play’ to everyone, I run around a few times and then we’re all up on our doorsteps and we do a series of exercises.
Before this, I probably knew five or six of my neighbours, but now I know lots of them. We know that we’re looking out for each other now and that’s really positive. There’s a lady here who’s not very well, so people are doing her shopping or going to the pharmacy for her. People are even dropping off bits of chocolate to other neighbours.
It was my birthday after the first On Your Step session and everyone put posters in their windows saying happy birthday. That was really special. And it’s now a tradition we’re going to do – it’s someone else’s birthday tomorrow so we’ll all decorate our windows for that person.
It’s massively brought people together. It’s a bit mad, but it really has got people talking and that’s really important at a time when we need good news.
To me, On Your Step is really London. A lot of people think London is a bit of a cold city. For those people who’ve left London [during the coronavirus crisis], it’s their choice but I’m really proud to have stayed in London and to be helping keep my community going.
When you don’t really know what each day will bring, it’s important to establish a routine. If we’ve got an 8.30am class on a Wednesday and a 10am class on a Saturday, at least that gives people a little bit of structure to their week.
I love getting my neighbours out on their steps with their tins of beans or tins of carrots, whatever people have. On Wednesday we had wooden spoons and pretended to stir a pot, we’ve had sweeping brushes like we’re majorettes. We’ve got a challenge on Saturday – everyone has to make a pom-pom out of plastic bags.
It’s great to see people smiling and to see the variety of ages of people who are out on their step. All I want to do is make people smile and bring a bit of community spirit to their day. It’s such a fun thing to do.