‘Lose the suits and lace up your boots’ is the message being spread by a Leeds councillor who is fighting to give members of his community greater access to fitness facilities.
Councillor Javaid Akhtar, representative for the Hyde Park and Woodhouse ward, spoke passionately at local council meetings as he tries to bring a healthy lifestyle to the residents of his represented area.
As a ward councillor, and branch secretary for GMB Yorkshire Professional Drivers, Mr Akhtar has witnessed firsthand the problems with access to fitness facilities in the city for all persons.
With a moderate ethnic population, the Labour representative became concerned with the health of many of his local residents after hearing shocking figures in regard to heart problems and diabetes.
He explained: “Basically it all started with the issue of high blood pressure in a lot of the Hyde Park residents and I thought to myself we have to do something about it.
“Some time past by and whilst we were doing commissioning in the community, it came out that heart issues and diabetes are all prevalent in BME communities. This really made me think that we have to take action now.”
British residents, of South Asian, African-Caribbean or Middle Eastern origin, are statistically more likely to develop diabetes when they are older.
Mr Akhtar hopes to tackle this figure head on by providing a range of exercises for free to his local residents, and has already seen positive steps taken by community groups.
“In my area, we have the Asian Women’s Association who have actually put in a bid with the area committee of match funding for 12 months, for free swimming sessions for local women,” he said. “This is positive as it is getting more people involved in exercise and gives all women the chance to swim for free.”
Also targeted by the healthy lifestyle scheme are elderly residents, who will be provided with sit-down exercises, in what Mr Akhtar would like to see as a pilot study for the whole city.
As branch secretary for GMB Yorkshire Professional Drivers, Mr Akhtar also hopes to target taxi drivers who he feels need their own ‘body MOT’ to keep fit during working days.
He said: “For the majority of the time taxi drivers will be sat down all day, go home, sleep eat and then back into the routine.
“We need exercise for these people as well and it is crucial we encourage taxi drivers to do their own body MOT.”
Meanwhile, wellbeing funding is spread throughout the city on a yearly basis by the approval of applications from different community groups.
With only one organisation from the BME community previously applying, a new scheme may also be launched soon to encourage ethnic communities to step forward, by assisting with all paperwork and the application process.