Paddy Bates from Mayday Trust reflects on sector-specific Zumba and yoga sessions and asks friends in the sector to "demand for others only what we would demand for ourselves"

Yesterday an interesting advert landed in my inbox courtesy of a Google alert I have set up. It read: “Zumba and yoga teacher required to run sessions for Homeless Pathways”

Clicking on the link I read the following: “We are looking for volunteers to run either Zumba or yoga sessions at our hostel. Our clients are interested in learning these new skills and getting fit. Sessions can be run at a time that suits you either weekly, fortnightly or monthly.”

I was over the moon! – Here was an opportunity for me to do a good deed for the day. I switched to my internet browser and did a quick search for “yoga (my area)” and “Zumba (my area)”. There were so many results! I found, if you were inclined, you could Zumba and yoga twice a day, most days, in various venues within a walking distance from the centre of town. Most classes would cost less than half the price of a pack of cigarettes and there were classes at times to suit even the busiest of folk.

So there you go! I hope I have saved someone a bit of time.

I have the privilege of working at Mayday Trust. We support folks going through challenging life transitions, such as those experiencing homelessness. When one of our Asset Coaches is told by the individual that they would like to try Zumba or yoga, they do what I just did – they find a local yoga or Zumba class.

Why? Because that’s what I would do.

If I, Paddy, want to take up yoga or Zumba, I google local classes and I ask my fitter, healthier friends about opportunities to do this in my area. What I don’t do is hope someone sets up a private yoga session, in my house, specifically for Irish guys in their late thirties, who tend to comfort eat. That would be a bit weird and really unlikely to happen, right? But what if a kind, compassionate individual or group of individuals came along and considered that I might feel more comfortable doing the Zumba or yoga in my own house, with ‘my own kind’. Wouldn’t that be better for everyone? Well, no, folks are rarely grateful for segregation. We know this.

“OK”, I hear you say, “gone a bit too far there, and of course, no-one is going to set up a yoga class in your house for such a specific group of folks”. Unless I become homeless and end up in a hostel or shelter, that is. In that eventuality, then I will get my Zumba class in-house with folks who are all in the same boat as me.

Except… They are not all in the same boat; it’s not a house and they don’t all want a Zumba class on Tuesday at 1 pm, especially in their living room.

Our Mayday Asset Coaches reflect tirelessly on the wonderful unique natures of each individual they work with and offer an appropriately bespoke series of interventions to build on and develop what each individual is genuinely passionate about.

Let’s say that really is Zumba. Great! So, the Asset Coach will support the individual to get to a Zumba class in town. This might be as simple as suggesting they google local Zumba classes like I did. The individual might well be nervous about going to a Zumba class in the centre of town, full of strangers, for the first time. To be honest I would be too. So their Coach or a volunteer might go with them. Maybe we would use a bit of Personal Budget to get new gym clothes – I feel better if I look the part.

What happens when the Coach, or volunteer, walk into that community hall with that individual for the first time? Not much really. It’s just two new members walking into Zumba. Not “Homeless Dave” and “Keyworker Lisa” but simply Dave and Lisa. - “Hi. Nice to meet you. Let's get to dancing and exercising.”

Can you see the difference? Can you feel it? The folks we work with certainly do. The freedom, the lack of label, the lack of othering, the being part of rather than kept apart from. Our experience has shown that in a few weeks, Dave won’t need or want Lisa to go to Zumba. He has made his own new friends now. His networks of positive relations, his confidence and his internal and external assets have expanded in ways that never would have happened had he stayed in his hostel and taken part in Zumba once a month with his bunk-mate.

We see this time and time again, don’t we? An individual works their way through the “homeless pathway” until they reach that pot of gold at the end – their own place. However, so many times, where do we see them the very next day? Right back on that wall outside the hostel. Why? It’s clear and proven – without that “parallel pathway” of positive new experiences, new networks and relationships, you are left with a man or woman alone in a room. I’d be back on that wall in a flash – it’s where my friends are, where I feel comfortable. Dare I say it, where I belong.

It is not always so simple. Obviously. But I urge you. I plead with you. You the compassionate, hard-working, kind friends of this sector. Let’s give it a try. Let’s chat, reflect, consider and demand for others only what we would demand for ourselves. Homelessness is transitional. We believe this. We know this. Let’s make it as brief a transition as possible.

Photo credit: Simon Schoeters