Co-op gym holds crowdfunder to expand its site and improve access

The non-profit Bristol Co-operative Gym wants to create a more inclusive and welcoming space

Bristol Co-operative Gym is running a crowdfunder to “build a gym that reflects our values and make our current space accessible for more people”.

The member-owned, volunteer-run gym has offered fitness training to more than 1,000 people in parts of the city with limited access to health and fitness facilties. Now it wants to offer “an inclusive, welcoming space for exercise free from assumptions around identity, appearance and ability”.

It says its co-op model offers an alternative to profit-driven commercial gyms, and “supports an approach to fitness unique to each member”.

“Our model works”, it adds. “We survived the pandemic, when many other gyms around us closed, without requiring any external support or dipping into our reserves.”

With the new fundraiser, it aims to:

  • Build a culture of non-judgement through celebration of each other’s progress
  • Build a supportive and inclusive culture that is free from assumptions
  • Empower people to create healthy training habits
  • Engage people who are excluded from training facilities
  • Provide high-quality coaching and facilities
  • Remain affordable by using fair pricing models
  • Be financially sustainable in our day-to-day operations, free from reliance on external funding

Last October, the co-op we took on sole occupancy of a space in St Anne’s House run by Bricks – a social enterprise supporting local and creative communities in Bristol.

Since then, it says it has welcomed 200 new people from the local area, offered free weightlifting classes to NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) young people and free memberships to refugees and asylum seekers.

But the site, a former council building, needs an urgent refit, including replacement flooring, improved soundproofing and new equipment.

Objectives include:

  • Improving the layout of our studio so it’s more suitable for beginners and members with mobility issues or neurodiversity
  • Adapting the space to give increased control over light and noise levels to better manage sensory stimulation, as well as offering the option of a more private training area for members who prefer that
  • Storing equipment in a way that is for all our members
  • Replacing some of its equipment with items that are more adaptable to all abilities and body shapes.

Members and coaches worked with with local architects 2A1M to design the ideal training environment, and the co-op has taken advice from experts in accessible, inclusive and community-engaged approaches to fitness, offering something “radically different to how conventional gyms look and feel”.

“Our gym will include people who are often excluded from fitness spaces by partnering proactively with specialist organisations in the communities we hope to reach,” the team adds.

Examples of access considerations in the space include:

  • Control of light and sound levels
  • Equipment storage and gym decoration that doesn’t feel too visually busy
  • Removal of obstacles and trip hazards
  • Part of the space that can be partitioned off as a more private training environment
  • Clear signage and use of colour to demarcate functions of spaces and storage
  • Consideration of the floor and wall textures
  • Equipment that is easy to move
  • Equipment that is flexible and adaptable rather than serving a single fixed purpose
  • All coat hooks, shelving, Swedish ladders etc. adaptable to any height
  • Space between equipment and large enough doors for wheelchairs
  • Dog bowl for service dogs!

The gym will be host a unique fundraising event on Saturday 9 April – the Bristol Co-operative Games. To attend, register your interest and donate here before the event.

And illustrator and co-op member Jayde Perkin has created two limited-edition t-shirt designs to support the campaign:


Other merchandise includes postcards, badges, patches, a training zine and a training music compilation.