Barcelona Opens Unique Gym With Free Membership For Those Who Can’t Afford
Barcelona opens a unique gym for social experiment with an initiative to change the world and make it a healthier place
The Sant Pau Gym in Barcelona is a unique social experiment that started after the gym went bankrupt in 2012. The employees bought the gym for 1 Euro and turned it into a self-managed community project. The membership for this gym is free for anyone who cannot afford it.
Ernest Morera, the Cooperative Manager at Sant Pau said, “This is a special place and a company that was taken up by its employees with 80 years of history. Once we took it over, we thought we had a responsibility towards our surroundings.” Out of all the members of the gym, 948 members don’t pay for their membership at all while 500 pay. He added, “You meet two people in the shower and you don’t know which one just came back from a ski trip and which one will have problems finding a hot meal or will sleep in an ATM.” The authorities at the gym believe in treating everyone equally.
The Sant Pau gym is located at Raval, a diverse neighbourhood in Barcelona.“Raval is Barcelona’s most multicultural neighbourhood, therefore we have some demands and requests that other gyms do not have” said Ernest Morera. They also have projects like swimming lessons for trans people. This was proposed to them by a member and they decided to give it a shot despite being unsure about it. “It was one of the most successful classes. Trans people suffered a lot of violence in the swimming pool because of unfinished transitions, scars and so on. As of now, we’re all listening to the demands coming from the neighbourhood.”
Sport is a tool for emotional stability and for picking good habits. A Sports Psychologist, Rafael Rodriguez says, “Sports has always been fundamental in social inclusion policies for people of all age groups. Identity and a sense of belonging to a group are also fundamental. It is an opportunity to share the best vaccine against racial prejudice, or any prejudice of this kind. It leads to improvement in self-esteem, which hugely influences one’s mood.”
Tomas, Brian, Facundo and Nacho work at the Sant Pau gym as maintenance men. They came from Argentina and soon ran out of money so they slept on the streets. Facundo Martinez said,” Sleeping on the beach means waiting for the tractor to pass by at 12 o’clock to smooth out the sand and then rest for 5 or 6 hours.” Another gym employee Brian Martin said, “We got tents, sleeping bags and then we got a little bit more comfortable.”
The three gym employees bonded over volleyball on the beach. Nacho Ona said that they started looking for work while they were dirty, poorly fed and tired. “That’s how we got to know the Sant Pau Gym”, he added. Tomas Agustin said there was a man who slept on mountains and in caves and came to the gym to train for boxing. The gym employees added that the door of their gym is always open, even for those who think they do not belong there. They feel grateful to have met good people and feel a part of society.
Since the Covid-19 crisis has begun, the gym has started to provide showers, food and clothing to those in need. They offer an average of 3,500 showers, along with the same amount of meals and clothing items per month. The authorities have been doing this since the last six months because they feel it isn’t fair with people in the street without access to showers while they had plenty of them. Ernest Morera believes “All economic activity can be conceived in social terms and we need to defend these spaces where there is life, where relationships are created and where things are born”. He also believes that cities have the duty to be aware that the places where life is created are places that need to be saved.
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