Ford Gym much more than fitness

The community gym has provided help and a great support network for local people thanks to one man’s vision.

Ford Gym is buzzing and Ed Sheeran’s 'Shape of You' is pumping out through the radio speakers as a man with a great big beaming smile comes over and introduces himself with an enthusiastic handshake.

This is Edward Thomasson, the gym’s longest serving member:  “I love it here; I’ve been coming to the gym for two years now since it reopened. I come down about three mornings a week and complete a gym circuit that my trainer Marie from the Wolseley Trust has set up for me.”

Ford Youth and Community Centre (known locally as Ford Gym) is a registered charity and was opened by Dave Smith in 1983. Richard Williams is a trustee of the gym said his son has been attending the martial arts classes since he was six years old. Now 30 years on his son Michael and daughter Charlotte run the martial arts classes – passing on their skills and knowledge to a younger generation at the Healthy Living Centre (HLC) on the Wolseley Trust Scott Business Park.

Founder Dave Smith wanted to move the gym from its previous location to new premises as the building they were situated in was slowly becoming not fit for purpose. Sadly before this could happen Dave passed away.

The Trustees, with help from PCH, the Devon Community Foundation (DCF) and The Wolseley Trust was able to secure funding to move the gym to a new location on the Wolseley Trust industrial estate and realise Dave’s vision.

Now the gym reaches out to members of the community to help people of all ages in all walks of life – particularly hard to reach young people. Thanks to funding from their partners and by linking in with local PCSO’s the gym is able to offer free classes to young people who are from disadvantaged backgrounds or perhaps have been excluded from school to help to re-engage them and provide them with support.

Richard explains: “We offer support to people who need it – this can be disadvantaged adults or youths who need our help to re-engage with the community. As we are a charity we rely heavily on volunteers and three self employed personal trainers plus a member of staff from Wolseley Trust who run the gym throughout the week.

“Ed is typical of the people we are trying to help and what we offer here. When he first arrived he was quite shy and I think over the last two years we’ve helped him to come out of his shell.”

The gym is currently offering 50 free 12 week memberships for people who might be unemployed, single parents or simply PCH residents to try the gym facilities thanks to a grant donation from PCH. 

As the gym is a charity it relies heavily on funding and donations and Richard does his best to apply for funding where he can: “I complete applications for funding and we have to thank PCH, DCF and the Wolseley Trust for their help and support, without their support the gym would not survive.

“We have been successful with a number of small Lottery funding bids but we survive month to month as it costs a lot of money to run the gym and provide the support and services we do for people in the local area.

“We are trying to bridge the funding gap by offering our gym for private hire to personal trainers who can come in and use the gym outside of our opening hours to train clients. We are looking at different ways that we can raise our income to be able to continue.”

Ed finishes Richard’s thoughts: “This gym is more than just somewhere to come and exercise, the people here are so friendly and the atmosphere that creates makes it welcoming and friendly. The exercise makes you fitter and healthier, helps make you feel balanced mentally, confident and it’s somewhere you can’t help but make friends and you just want to come back time and time again.”

Check out the website and download a registration form at or simply visit the Gym and talk to a member of staff.