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Physical Activities for Women


This project opened up opportunities for women-only physical activity sessions. It addressed the cultural sensitivities preventing participation and also used the sessions to integrate healthy eating and general well-being approaches into participants' lifestyles.



  • address the lack of physical activity and promote a healthy lifestyle and mental well-being amongst local residents
  • enhance mutual understanding between people of different backgrounds, faith and cultures
  • create a sense of belonging among those living in White City
  • influence lifestyle behaviour and attitudes to healthy eating and mental well-being

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White City is considered to have a good range of services and facilities available to residents but little in the way of planned/organised activities, especially for BME women with their associated barriers to participation; this group is highly sensitive to men being present where physical activity is taking place.

The concept of women-only aerobics and yoga taking place at the heart of the community was a challenge on the White City Estate because some BME women would never have considered participating in this type of activity, despite having a gym that provided concessions and other services.

Although swimming classes were available on Friday evenings, local women weren't happy with these - they wanted more sessions, both morning and night, and for the sessions to be more private. Glass walls surrounding the pool allow passers-by to look in, and men had been observed around the pool area during the women-only session, which was seen as disrespectful. Although women are allowed to wear leggings at the pool, many were unaware of this.

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Activate London consulted with many BME women in the area, with the aid of a local organisation, the Somali Women's Support and Development Group (SWSDG), led by Kissu Denton Savage. At a Well London open day in May 2009 and via existing networks cultivated by SWSDG, Activate generated a bank of interested community members who showed a willingness to take part in physical activities.

A total of 37 women registered their interest in physical activity such as aerobics, yoga and swimming. They were keen to learn and take part in more sports and activities (including walking groups), such as those already on offer at Phoenix High School, but this required teachers to be available to take classes. There was a strong desire for relaxing activities such as yoga and visiting a sauna.

The first session, held at the White City Community Centre in June 2009, saw 22 women from a multi-faith community participating in physical activities tailored to their needs, delivered by a female instructor. This was just two weeks after the taster session held at the Well London Open Day.

The classes were promoted via outreach to schools, homes, clubs and centres and by posters, flyers and newsletters. Outreach and word of mouth were found to be the most effective methods.

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By January 2010 47 women (the majority from ethnic minority backgrounds living in the SOA) had taken part in aerobics sessions. The success of the initiative prompted the Arts Council as part of Well London to offer match funding to the project, enabling the sessions to run for longer.

One participant said, "The women's aerobics sessions have really motivated me to lead a new and healthy life - from exercising regularly to healthy choices when it comes to food."

The aerobics and yoga sessions also provided an opportunity for people to meet up and support one another. Taekwondo classes ran between October 2009 and February 2010 (40 attendees); yoga between January and June 2010 (20 attendees).

Water and fresh fruit and vegetables are provided at these sessions, to encourage participants to avoid eating the wrong types of food after exercise. Body monitoring scales allow those taking part to weigh themselves and so monitor their progress towards a healthy lifestyle.

Activate London will continue to support the development of BME women's physical activity in White City throughout the duration of the Well London programme. With a great deal of confidence in SWSDG to maintain interest and coordinate the activity, Activate London has been free to concentrate on building relationships with potential partners. Discussions have taken place with the PCT and local authority to highlight the impact of the women-only aerobics initiative in this community. Activate London has been asked to prepare a proposal to highlight the success of the programme with the possibility of incorporating the session into a larger budget or health strategy.

There is a possibility that SWSDG will work in partnership with Phoenix High School to deliver the yoga classes, to avoid duplication and ensure sustainability of the activity beyond the project lifetime.

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Over 200 local women took part in the activities, including 82 taking part in the aerobics, 45 taking yoga classes and 85 participating in the salsa programme. The project was evaluated through the Well London core questionnaires, which measure changes in lifestyle behaviour, numbers of participants, the benefits of participating and also explore other potential activities that participants may be interested in. The majority of responses indicated a positive change in lifestyle behaviour and attitude towards mental well-being.

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  • Sustainability of physical activities was an issue as classes are only funded for 20 weeks at a time
  • Local residents should be involved with both the planning and delivery of physical activities.
  • It is important to remove any barriers that are preventing local residents from different ethnic backgrounds from participating in physical activities such as swimming
  • If possible, involve the local council, PCT and local leisure centres to persuade them to support the project and provide the right infrastructure (such as free venue hire, publicity, translation services, consultation, etc.)

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