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F45 Brixton: healing a community through fitness

21 Oct 2018

Image of owner and Brixton native, Yenn Penn | F45 Brixton ©

Fitness obsessives will already know all about F45 – it’s the world’s fastest-growing fitness concept. It provides 45 minutes of intense, interval-based sessions for people of all levels and abilities. Loved by celebrities, personal trainers and Insta-fitness buffs, F45 has opened in Brixton. But in an area already ravaged by gentrification, with a rapidly shrinking ethnic minority community, where does yet another swanky fitness studio fit? And will it cater to the people who have called Brixton home for generations? We spoke to owner and Brixton native, Yemi Penn, who thinks her studio is precisely what the community needs.

“I fell in love with F45 when I was in Australia, and now I want to bring it home to Brixton. Brixton is home for me and the vision I have for the studio is something that will sit in the heart of the community – something for everyone to get involved with. On gentrification, that is the difficult question to answer – but I’ve seen Brixton change dramatically over the last few decades.”

Yemi was born in London and spent part of her childhood in Nigeria before relocating to Brixton in 1993. She has witnessed the effects of gentrification first hand and has seen the facilities available in the area shrink year-on-year. She sees fitness as a key tool in building relationships and reuniting a fractured community.

“There will be classes at full price, but it’s important to me that this facility is accessible for everyone in the area. I’m going to be running community outreach programmes, working with other local studios, and I’m applying for government funding to provide the level of accessibility I want to reach. There will be community classes held during off-peak hours that will be affordable and will allow people to get involved and will hopefully help them to really connect with each other.”

“Ethnic minority women are least likely of any group to participate in sport or physical activity”

The benefits of F45 are well recorded. High intensity interval training conditions your entire body, helps build strength and stability and improves your anaerobic fitness levels. But is it a stretch to say that a fitness studio can have real, lasting benefits in a struggling community? Yemi thinks not.

For her, fitness and physical vigour is at the core of everything, and is inextricably linked to mental health and overall wellbeing. Falling in love with fitness changed her life and she thinks a stronger relationship with physical activity is just what the Brixton community needs.

“Fitness and being physically active entirely changes my mind set. When I go for a run or do a fitness class, it allows me to live fully in that moment with no worries or distractions. It’s so beneficial in that way. It’s really a calming influence and allows you to focus on one thing, rather than have your mind racing all over the place.

“Mental health is a huge problem in my community. It’s one of the biggest things I have seen change over the decades. As the makeup of Brixton continues to change and families are displaced, the thing I am seeing more and more is people struggling with their mental health. I think it’s a growing crisis and something that we really need to address.

“Being physically active can go so far in helping to protect against mental health problems, and people don’t always realise that. But it’s a simple and easy way to help and it puts the power back in the hands of the community. Everything has to start with the body; having a healthy, strong body and mind and good level of fitness has to be the starting point before any other form of self-improvement.”

Yet when it comes to engagement with physical activity, people of colour fare the worst. Ethnic minority women are least likely of any group to participate in sport or physical activity at least once a week; only 33% of black women and 26.1% of Asian women are meeting the current recommended level of physical activity. This is something Yemi hopes to address with her studio.

“It’s difficult to say why black women are less likely to be physically active – I think it would come down to a variety of factors. It’s almost as if black women have too many battles to fight. I think we can be guilty of having the wrong priorities – sometimes picking the wrong battles to fight. Before we can focus on professional, social and relationship battles, we have to take it back to basics and focus on ourselves, our own wellbeing.”

F45 Brixton ©

“For me, fitness is an intensely social activity. It’s all about who I’m with, who I’m meeting, how we support each other through the class. F45 in Brixton will be all about the social and the community, so it’s not just physical benefits: relationships and new social circles will be built.”

The studio opened on 8 September and kicked off the programme with a special Brixton Workout to really cement the community feel of the studio. The “Brixton” put you through your paces; testing your cardio, strength, boxing, MMA and martial arts skills – mimicking training like a real fighter.

“I want this new studio in Brixton to really be the starting point. What I’m aiming to do, with the funding and the community outreach programmes, it’s really something that could be emulated elsewhere – I’m hoping this is the start of something even bigger.”  

To find out more and book a class, visit: