during lockdown has turned into a physical and mental health wellbeing organisation with over three hundred members and half a dozen volunteers from across Bradford.
Since last year, the group has cultivated a strong bond between its members, encouraging friendship and sisterhood through its digital and in-person exercises classes.
The organisation, Happy Healthy You Bradford and Beyond (HHYBB) is the brainchild of Humera Khan, a community worker and a qualified fitness instructor with over ten years of experience.
Before the pandemic, Ms Khan delivered free fitness classes across community centres in Bradford to provide friendly, accessible, and fun exercise sessions to local people. Then, Covid-19 struck pushing the classes to go digital with women exercising from the comfort of their homes.
Ms Khan said: “We started last year as volunteers. I am a fitness exercise instructor and was doing it at various community centres around Bradford.
When Covid-19 hit, people asked us to go online, so me and my colleague, Zafar, who leads the male yoga sessions, did.”
“It grew into something amazing; we didn’t expect it. We started with 15-20 people in our WhatsApp chat and now I have 240 women in my group and Zafar has a good few in his.”
The transition from community centres to Zoom came from demand, Ms Khan says. “From word of mouth we had 10 people attend our internet sessions at the beginning, to 45 women taking my yoga class at the height of the pandemic.”
Although, it wasn’t a natural transition. At first, Ms Khan was uncertain about shifting her teaching digitally. She said: “In the beginning, I was hesitant. I thought ‘gosh you don’t know who is going to be in the room’, I wanted to make sure that it was ladies only and that it was safe.”
Ms khan added: “I’m also not very technical so I had to learn to use Zoom, but we make sure that cameras are switched on and ensure that it safe and comfortable not just for myself but for everyone else. We got over the issue of safety quite quickly and anytime someone joins the WhatsApp chat I make sure that they know the rules – cameras have to stay on, and the link stays strictly within the group.”
Ishaq Shafiq, of Laisterdyke Library, was also instrumental in giving Ms Khan the push to take to Zoom, giving her advice and the confidence to do so.
The online sessions include Zumba, Pilates, and both male and female Yoga classes. However, they also run face-to-face walking groups, park classes, competitions, and even arts and crafts sessions.
Ms Khan said: “The group has now expanded to become a health and wellbeing organisation; we want to help people feel happier and healthier.”
All the sessions are free, except for the boot camp which is taught by fitness professional Anthony Oxford and costs £1 a go.
Initial funding came from local community centres, but the organisation is now backed by funding from the National Lottery, which has “made a big difference in delivering classes”, says Ms Khan.
Anyone and everyone are encouraged to join. Parents often bring their young ones along, turning the classes into a family event, and the activities can be done with any mobility level. “One woman is in her 80’s and she get involved through chair-based exercises”, Ms Khan said.
Most people who attend the sessions are South Asian, but the organisation is not exclusive.
The feedback from the members of the organisation has been overwhelmingly positive. One member said: “It is great to learn about the feelings of positivity and wellbeing that we are getting from other sisters. It helps to keep me motivated that we are all struggling and even having our off days.
“But we are all making changes to our lifestyles which will help us long term. I believe that it is easier to commit to the changes we have made because we are sharing our experiences with this course.
“Especially because of the hard work of our sisters who have organised it and have kept motivating us and have kept us strong.”
Another said: “I look forward to this group every evening, it gives me something to think about.”
The purpose of the organisation is just as much about increasing physical fitness as improving and maintaining mental and emotional wellbeing.” Ms Khan said: “When I ask the ladies ‘how has the group affected your physical and mental health?’ I’ve had so many positive responses.
“I didn’t expect it but the improvement to mental health has been bigger than physical health. The group has helped people socialise again in a group.
“When gyms reopened, I thought that the group would die down, and it has a little bit, but a lot of our members are sticking with us because it is convenient from home, and they have gotten used to exercising that it has become a habit in their lives.
“It has become ‘when is our next class’ type of thing. I think it has changed a lot of people’s general mental and physical health.’
Bradford’s television doctor, Dr Amir Khan, is a wildlife Trust ambassador and recently judged HHYBB’s ‘Autumn walk in nature challenge’ where people were encouraged to walk three miles for three weeks daily, and snap their best picture in the chance to win a prize.