Women enjoying safer and more comfortable women-only exercise

Three women in a boxing ring wearing boxing gloves at the Sobell Centre in Islington landscape

Many women feel safer and more comfortable playing sport or exercising in women only spaces, while some prefer to do so for religious reasons. Thankfully, Better, which runs Islington’s leisure services, is now offering a range of different sessions to suit all of Islington’s diverse communities. We caught up with some of the women who attend – and teach – the sessions, to see what they gain from being in women-only spaces

“For me, Naomi’s class is like being part of a sisterhood,” says Laetitia, who attends Fit Mammas box fit classes at Sobell Leisure Centre, which incorporates kickboxing, self-defence and Muay Thai “There’s a really supportive atmosphere. It’s much more than just exercise; it’s a space for women to come together and prioritise ourselves. We can chat freely about any element of our health, whether it be hormones, breastfeeding, or periods.”

Childcare is often a real barrier to women accessing health and fitness – “but we can bring kids to the class, which is lovely,” Laetitia continues. “There are a lot of mothers and daughters who come along together. I wear a headscarf, and women-only sessions mean I am able to take off my hijab and relax. I don’t feel self-conscious or restricted in any way and to be able to just focus on training or sparring is the best feeling ever. It’s a real release of tension and pent-up energy, which in turn means I function properly in my work and with my family.”

Naomi’s view: Fit Mammas box fit classes

Naomi, who runs the classes, agrees that the boxing, kick boxing and self-defence sessions can be a brilliant stress relief. “I started getting into martial arts when I was a single mum,” she explains. “I found traditional boxing gyms sometimes intimidating – I just don’t want to be feeling aware of my personal safety, or to worry if I am being looked at in a certain way. I just want to relax, let go and throw some punches!”

Naomi, who has a background in counselling and psychology, believes that box fit can be great for women who have experienced stress and trauma. “Some of the women I work with have been through a lot,” she continues. “Having the space to focus on themselves is key – you have to fill your own cup before you’re able to look after others.

To be able to put their roles and responsibilities on hold and focus on themselves is so good. It helps people to believe in their abilities and grow in confidence.” The classes are also a great opportunity for women of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds to come together, with the shared goal of getting active, having fun, and meeting other people in a safe environment. “I love that Islington has so many different communities, and this is reflected in my classes,” says Naomi. “I have Muslim women from very different countries and cultures mixing with non Muslims, women in their 70s chatting away to teenagers – people who might not otherwise cross paths supporting each other to push themselves, or bonding over their sparring technique.”

“I’ve worked with Orthodox Jewish women, taught yoga in mosques, trained young Somali women to teach box fit in their communities. I find it really inspiring to see how women from different communities can be so supportive and build each other up,” Naomi reflects. “And there is always a lot of laughter along the way!”

How other women-only sessions are helping

The same is the case at other women-only sessions, which include tennis, aerobics, gym, swimming – and football, which is where Lucia found the social connection she needed, after moving to Islington with her young son a couple of years ago. “A friend suggested I join her football team. I used to play football a lot when I was a kid, but stopped when my dad told me it was a men’s sport,” she explains. “So, I thought I’d give it a go. I am not at all tempted by the gym, so I thought it seemed like a good way to see if I’d still like it.”  

Lucia now plays for Islington Borough Ladies Football Club. “I love it! I’ve made so many new friends, it’s a brilliant way to stay fit, and it’s fun and competitive,” she continues. “We also have quite a few socials outside of the game, which is great. I love the fact that often I’m hanging out with people I wouldn’t normally come across.” 

There’s a real sense of community at the classes, which take place every day of the week, making them easier to fit around work or childcare. “I guess I have been inspired by the rise in the profile of women’s football,” says Lucia. “My dad now says he wishes he hadn’t told me to stop playing when I was a teenager!” 

For more information, call 033 0123 1500 or check the Better website for the full women-only offer. 

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