Meet Drew: Putting Positivity Into Our Mental Health Exercise

One in four people encounter a mental health challenge in their lifetime.  

Our Positive Steps project aims to tackle social isolation and physical challenges through an individual’s perceived mental barriers and enable our members to boost their everyday life with small changes to their emotional and physical wellbeing.  

We spoke to the project’s facilitator Drew Nicholls about why our members are benefitting from Positive Steps - with a new band of sessions running this month in association with Bow Haven, City and Hackney Recovery College and at our impressive new Urban Gym - and why he and our team are trying to ensure real behaviour change through exercise.  

Meet Drew

Drew Nicholls has led a diverse life so far. From breakdancing and circus work, as well as living in America for 23 years, he’s certainly into embracing change.  

Yet a near-catastrophic personal circumstance has led to a humble yearning to help people and essentially, a desire to use his own experience to enable recovery in others.  

“I once fell of a trapeze and a GP said to me I wouldn’t be able to breakdance again and this inspired me to get fit again and show determination,” says Drew.

Returning to the UK, he found work at our gym - inner London’s only disabilities and long-term health conditions rehabilitation service - where he’s previously been an advanced instructor and now, is leading on making behaviour change in our Positive Steps programme

Drew says: “I’ve had some challenges of my own to overcome and since I stumbled upon this special gym, I’ve met so many people with big challenges and being here in this team, we’ve been able to support our members to make anything possible in their lives.” 

The Positive Steps programme - which has existed for nearly a year and a half and offers an initial 10 week exercise slot with members before they are reassessed on both, their physical wellbeing and, whether they require further Positive Steps sessions - has grown to around 30 members participating during each block of sessions.   

“We’ve had one lady who’s been diabetic and she was in denial about her mental health which led to significant comfort eating, yet now, she’s been able to move on and live a much healthier life and balanced diet and reverse her initial condition, which through her own motivation and Positive Steps, is incredible,” Drew adds.   

With new sessions beginning this month outside the gym for Positive Steps - 10 exercise sessions are now running at just £2 per class at our gym and our new urban gym setting by Mile End Leisure Centre and with free sessions at City and Hackney Recovery College and Bow Haven (find out more information at the bottom of this page) - we sat down with Drew to find out more about the successes of the project, Drew himself and why he believes this mental health programme can make real change to the Tower Hamlets community accessing this service.  

The Q&A 

Q. Hi Drew. Great to sit down with you and get the full story on you and Positive Steps! Tell us a bit more about yourself?  

A: Hi Ability Bow! Thanks for having me! I’ve done a lot to be honest and I always enjoy keeping busy. As well as the breakdancing and circus stuff - which was great fun - I love cooking healthy food and do so now with the gym members at Bow Haven and City and Hackney Recovery College as part of Positive Steps and so I’ve seen a lot of results from what we’ve all put in as part of the programme.  

In terms of hobbies and interests though, my daughter’s encouraged me to return to breakdancing occasionally again (as she likes to dance and gets me doing it and wearing flares/air flares).  

I’m also writing a book too based on Ladbroke Grove, a non-fictional account of that area before 1958 and riots which existed then (I’m just looking for a publisher at the moment). I’m also a hip-hop music lover and used to be a formal DJ and while I’ve also sold my own produced records in the past, I’m currently working on some new music with a guy in Walthamstow which is exciting.  

Finally, I’m also an Arsenal Football Club fan, so as everyone knows, I’m adding to what is a ‘Gunners gym'.  

Q. What is the Positive Steps project and what does it provide our members? 

A: Basically, the project is very goal-driven. It offers dietary information and education all tailored to the individual and a lot of peer support. This can really help people with conditions like depression and aid their ability to maintain a can-do attitude through direct one-to-one instructor support.  

We (the instructor team) are essentially able to look at the situation through the programme participant’s shoes and we help enable people with a wide spectrum of needs - including those with more serious injuries which may lead to depression, to those dealing with anxiety because of challenges through say, a learning disability - to recover mentally by using exercise too.  

We also always offer gentle reminders to members to help them keep sight of their goals and achievements as/when they need to work on them.  

Q. How do you manage to work with people to achieve their goals? 

A: With clients and their mental health, I’m able to help them open up to me and be a friendly support and begin a closer and more positive relationship from there, which leads to great success stories for the individual. Some people can be vulnerable and if a traumatic incidence occurs, it can provide them with a real setback and they may for instance not leave the house for 3 months.  

The way we’re able to get individuals to achieve their goals is talking to people, motivating them, giving health tips and it’s meant that at least half those on the programme have been able to sustain the brilliantly effective changes they’ve been implementing as part of Positive Steps. 

Offering routine and structure in a person’s life through exercise here and enabling them to access community services is vital to members and is the best way to ensure we minimise relapses and create great success stories, which I’m proud to say we’re doing.  

Q. What success stories have you seen through Positive Steps?  

A: There are so many - including people moving from a wheelchair to walking for example.

Additionally, someone once hit by a car is now able to run again even after the doctor said he may never be able to walk again.  Now he’s able to walk far better unaided and without a stick and through work at the gym and Positive Steps, this man was able to make changes and transform his life amazingly in different ways.  

Q. Why is Positive Steps and the gym itself so special?  

A: As I said earlier, things like diabetes can be reversed through something like exercise and this makes the programme and the gym so unique.  

We’re also able to be part of that recovery with someone every step of the way (hence the project name) when they work with us and this gym is so special to me because of its great family and community East End spirit and nice characters too.  

Q. What will these new Positive Steps sessions look to involve?  

A: The new sessions will focus on successful weight loss, joint care and person-centred health management. We’ll also be looking at elements of full mental and physical recovery and how to fully succeed based on the individual.  

The sessions will also work on points ranging from how to tackle removing pain in a member’s foot to merely giving them the tools to exercise more fully and at home too - i.e. by being able to break down exercise into manageable segments and say do it in TV advert breaks and get people standing and feeling flexible.

What Positive Steps also does is recommend exercise and mental wellbeing tips like those on BBC’s Get Inspired series via a What’s App group, so based again on the person, we’ll suggest these to members for them to look at if they feel it beneficial. 

Q: What’s the main difference between Ability Bow and corporate gyms? 

A: Corporate gyms have people going within their own little world and on a treadmill in a quite isolating fashion, whereas our gym is brilliantly social and inclusive.  

People are also able to really inspire each other to succeed and that’s why I love being here!  

Positive Steps At A Glance

Our main Positive Steps sessions operate over a 10 week period and are based:

  • At Bow Haven on Mondays from 10:30am to 11:30am
  • At the Urban Gym on Wednesdays from 11am-12pm and at City and Hackney Recovery College on Wednesdays from 1:30pm-2:30pm
  • At our Ability Bow Gym from 12:15pm to 1:15pm on Fridays

Signing Up

Find out more about the programme and how to get involved on our Positive Steps page>>

Additionaly, for a chance to get your place on the mental health exercise course, you can sign up to one of our joint sessions with City and Hackney Recovery College and partners - which run weekly - with sessions running from FREE to just £2, by emailing or by phoning: 020 8980 7778.