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Charity unveils plans for purpose built exercise hub in Leith to tackle mental health

Edinburgh based charity Projekt 42 has unveiled plans to create a purpose-built community gym and wellness centre in Leith, after gaining the support of local property businesses.

Established by Sara Hawkins following her own battle with mental health, the not-for-profit venture aims to tackle misconceptions about conditions including depression and anxiety, and promote the connection between good mental health and physical fitness. The proposed gym, which would be built on disused land at Halmyre Street, would host a carefully crafted timetable of fitness classes, guided meditation, life coaching and counselling.

The charity has officially lodged a planning application with Edinburgh Council after receiving pro bono support from Edinburgh based property developers Buccleuch Property, who have brought together a task force* of local building experts, engineers and architects, to provide advice and assistance on the project, free of charge.

Sara Hawkins, Project 42

The community facility was devised by charity founder, Sara after she was inspired by her own mental health journey. In 2012, she was diagnosed with PTSD, and unable to access the necessary support quickly, her condition spiralled and she became unable to work or participate in everyday activities. After months of being withdrawn, Sara was gifted a gym membership, and following several failed attempts to even get through the door, she started attending regularly and saw a dramatic improvement in her mental wellbeing.

Sara said: “I was put on a lengthy NHS waiting list and couldn’t find any other kind of support that was suitable or affordable. I started going to the gym and it was a combination of physical exercise, counselling and life coaching, that helped get me back on my feet and facing the world again. A year later I ran my first marathon.

“I thought if it could work for me, it had to work for others and I threw all of my energy in to setting up Projekt 42.”

The charity has been running a pilot scheme in a former shop in the Newkirkgate, Leith, and in just 11 weeks, saw membership swell to 350 with 30 hours of activities, from yoga and circuits to weight training and meditation, taking place every week. Now, Projekt 42 has officially lodged plans to create its own bespoke facility. The new-build will include fitness studios, an indoor cycle studio and classrooms to host workshops including nutrition & food planning, counselling and a fitness academy, which will provide affordable fitness qualifications to young adults in Edinburgh.

Sara said: “Our temporary studio has been a major success and a good first step in realising our vision of creating a sanctuary where people from all walks of life can build happy bodies and strong minds. Although our aim is to support those working to overcome mental health illness, we are a gym for everyone, with classes for all ages and abilities; from senior fitness sessions and family yoga, to classes specifically for teenagers.

“We want to reach more people in the community and offer them a safe space to come together, get moving, open up conversations and break down barriers about the mental battles we suffer. Projekt 42 is quite different to conventional gyms in that we encourage people to work together and input in to the class. We don’t use loud music to motivate members – we want class participants to motivate and drive each other.”

David Peck, Managing Director of Buccleuch Property, said: “We’ve all been really moved by not only Sara’s personal journey, but her drive to improve things for other people. Mental health is such an underdiscussed topic affecting a huge amount of people, and I didn’t have to do much convincing to get a strong team of property businesses on board to help Projekt 42 realise their vision.

“As well as requiring the necessary planning permissions, the charity is also awaiting the outcome of various funding applications, which will be vital in securing the long-term future of the gym. Ahead of the build, we will be seeking key materials such as portable cabin units, solar panels, raw building materials and fixtures and fittings. I’d urge any local businesses who are able to provide materials or support the project, to get in touch and back the creation of an important community facility.”