Established in 2009, Hallam Barbell is a community gym with a difference. Committed to using fitness and strength training as a catalyst for change and as a way of bringing together communities and supporting people of all backgrounds with their physical and mental wellbeing, they are working to develop and deliver innovative programmes which have the power to connect people and communities.

Their work has been widely recognised this year, as they became the winner of the BBC Yorkshire Unsung Heroes award. We caught up with founder and head coach Dave Hembrough to talk about the work they are doing and how they are using lifting to build healthier, happier and stronger communities.

StreetGames: Congratulations on winning the regional Sports Personality of the Year Unsung Heroes award – what an amazing achievement for the whole team. What does this win mean for you?

Dave: This award is great. It’s fantastic to get the recognition but what’s really important is that it shows we are on track and heading in the right direction. Traction and trajectory have been my words to describe it.

SG: What inspired you to set up Hallam Barbell and how did the project get started?

D: I set up Hallam barbell club as I was lifting weights with friends and we were training and competing together. I wanted to bring others to the sport and provide a community for people to get fit, strong and exercise together.

SG: What do you think is the role of exercise and physical fitness in enhancing peoples lives and what do you think can be done to make it more accessible?

D: There is a direct and indirect role in wellbeing for strength training, sport and exercise. The direct relates to physical and mental health. The indirect to social health, personal traits like confidence and self belief. These attributes are well established and understood in research but we need more people and places delivering these activities in a fun, safe and engaging way.

SG: You’ve run a number of innovative projects designed to engage in news ways, whether that’s making weights and strength training more accessible to women and girls through your Powerbelle project or combining mental and physical wellbeing through your MindfullySTRONG programme. Do you think sports organisations should be doing more to engage with broader range of young people?

D: I think the sporting offer needs to be better understood and promoted to be further reaching than sport for sport's sake and competition. This needs to start in the training and education of coaches. Street Games are leading the way in this area. They are helping club and coaches really understand and tap in to the power of sport for development and social change.

SG: Is there something you are proudest of or can point to as your greatest achievement so far?

D: The things I’m proud of are the people that I’ve helped. Those who wouldn’t have had support or got the results elsewhere From a young man who was self-harming and suicidal and used weightlifting as a way to understand and accept himself, to a women who was anxious to the point of social isolation who we helped to gain confidence and to join a gym and train independently. These are the stories of success that matter. Aside from that we have trained British champions and international competitors which shows all this can be delivered under one roof.

SG: You’ve clearly had a massive impact on your local community. What’s the key to successful engagement, and what is your advice for other organisations that are looking to use physical activity to inspire young people and build stronger communities?

D: My advice would be to take time to understand, engage and build trust in relationships. Turn up regularly, be interested, ask questions and meet people where they need to be met. Adjust the delivery and the programme where you can around the community’s needs. This is what builds trust, engagement and long term results.

To learn more about Hallam Barbell visit their website at: