… where the vision began!
CoLiberate’s Wellbeing Gym began in the hearts of its three co-founders, Sarah, Bop, and Jody over four years ago. Coming from a theatre & performance background, they entered Inspiring Stories’ Live The Dream accelerator programme with a goal of finding ways to make their theatre production company more financially viable and sustainable. After 9 weeks of interrogating WHY devised theatre processes are valuable and necessary, it was clear that the performers within each shows sense of belonging, connection and wellbeing were integral to a good experience. This swiftly shifted their driving purpose; to help make people be more sustainable in their self-care and co-care practices.
This then challenged us to think about where the spaces existed with a collection of people that needed a sense of belonging, connection and purpose in their work and a good sense of wellbeing to perform… workplaces, communities, schools – everywhere! How can we create a space which could welcome anyone to feel a sense of connection, purpose and belonging?
This was amplified by a few people in our community who were experiencing ongoing distress and were on a 6-week waiting list to see a counselor. Without knowing what good support options are available while in this 6 week waiting for space. And thus, the idea of Mental health Gym was born! What if there was a space in the city where you could go to find belonging, community, connection and to work on your emotional and mental health? What if it could be as easy as going to a yoga class, or an hour of cardio? Physical fitness being so normalised, so encouraged – you don’t need to be unwell to go to the gym – how could we create that level of normalisation in people supporting their mental health? We researched and discovered there were dozens of physical gyms in Wellington city, but nowhere to go to work out your mind, or heart. So we set out to create it for ourselves.
We partnered up with Urban Dream Brokerage who found us an old law office up for lease. We agreed to use the space on a rolling lease until someone rented it. And beginning with a budget of just $2,000, we created our first iteration of The Wellbeing Gym.
We launched a 5-week timetable of one-hour long facilitated sessions. We ran Mindfulness with Clay, Creative Movement, Yoga, Reflective Writing and our most popular offering – Wellness Wananga – all classes that focused on increasing our emotional understanding, building empathy, active listening and bold sharing.
We could see this work having an impact in a few ways:
This space was solely set up to work on your mind. a whole space, specifically designated to the craft of self-work.
People made friends! Meeting for the first time, we found that an oblique benefit of showing up to this sort of work is that you met people with similar experiences and therefore connection often felt easy!
It was a physical place that people could start to trust that they would get the immediate support they needed. That there was someone to greet them as they are, no matter what they were carrying with them.
We were supposed to have the space for 5 weeks and by some stroke of miraculous luck, ended up having it for 18 months. In those 18 months, we made friends for life, built a community, and learned what we needed to enable people to work on their mental and emotional health.
When the lease came to a close, it was for these reasons we knew we wanted to find our next version of the gym. We teamed up with a cafe on the other side of town who offered us the use of their space in the evenings after the cafe had closed.
And so it began… again! We would arrive and dance our way through the transition from cafe to CoLiberate space. We ran similar sessions to the previous version of the gym and we were delighted to find a lot of our community came with us.
We were still very interested in how to get workplaces valuing mental health and wellbeing enough that employees feel permission to engage with it during their work day. Given the opportunity in our own office space at the time, The Biz Dojo, we decided to give the ‘inhouse’ experiment a go. What does it actually take to stop writing an important email, or leave a meeting early to come and do some yoga or meditation? We also ran a Wellness Window – encouraging people to talk and get curious about mental health support for themselves and others.
These events in the workplace did really well to normalise conversations – adding to the mission of creating a normalised culture of mental health.
Alongside a combination of all the learnings and discoveries from the experiments we have run, we started scheming together alongside Ash Holwell from SpaceLamp to launch a permanent space for our Wellbeing Gym. We had the dream of building Wellington’s Biggest, Boldest most Bodacious Wellbeing Gym in the heart of the city – and thanks to this partnership, it started becoming a reality.
two/fiftyseven is a collaborative community of people doing impact-orientated work. Our space will be nestled within it and exist in the way we know it… a timetable of classes to enable you to develop wellbeing strategies that work. With a wide range of times and classes, there is something for everyone!
So drumroll please…. The Well will be launching in July 2021. We are super excited to be able to offer what we know works and is very much needed on a permanent and supportive basis. We are so grateful for our partnership and the people who have been flying the ‘Bring Back the Mental Health Gym’ flag with us for a long time.