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Brixton business works out success

BRAINS AS WELL AS BRAWN: Gym entrepreneur Terroll Lewis

WHEN TERROLL Lewis started working out at Myatt’s Field kids’ playground it was just about building muscles and maintaining his health.

But a You Tube video of the talented fitness fanatic performing impressive manoeuvres on jungle gyms and stairway rails around his block, kick-started a social media sensation that would change his life.

“It started when I was in prison in 2009. Just me and four walls,” he said. “You get bored and lonely. I had to find something to pass the time, so I started to exercise. My cell became a gym and everything and anything became gym equipment. I began to do press-ups, tricep dips in the toilet and loads of different things. Then I started to use the gym room in the jail.”

The 24-year-old also had ample time to think about the decisions that had landed him in jail in the first place.

He recalls: “I never had a father or older siblings so there was never a male role model to look up to. The older guys on the estate provided that mentorship. I looked at what they were doing and getting up to and thought that was the lifestyle for me.”

Lewis soon joined a gang and started dealing drugs.

“You know when you are in that kind of environment you have to be tough. But what my friends were seeing wasn’t strength and my smile wasn’t a true reflection of what was going on inside. Because the truth was, I was stressed and depressed.”

He added: “Being in prison gave me time to reflect and what I saw ahead was a dark future where I either ended up dead or in and out of prison for the rest of my life.”

With help from Mimi Asher, a pastor at a local youth church, Lewis decided to make a U-turn.

“It was hard and it didn’t happen all at once, it took a year for me to really make a change. My friends were like, ‘whoa – you’ve deserted us on the battleground’, but I was determined and Pastor Asher never gave up on me.”

When Lewis came out of prison he approached a local gym, but didn’t have a bank account to set up membership.
“They were telling me about direct debit…as an ex-gang member I never had no bank account so I decided to use stuff on my block to exercise. I posted some videos and the next thing I know all these people were ‘liking’ what I was doing and asking to come and train with me.”

Lewis set up a fitness programme called Block Workout, which started out in local parks. Earlier this year, with funding from Lambeth Council, he was able to open a permanent gym.

“We have kept the outdoor concept so it is half indoor, half outdoors,” he explained.

He continued: “This place is like a hub, we get a lot of boys, a lot of girls, from all across the borough, off the streets, because we can relate to what they are going through.

“We understand that everybody wants to feel important and extraordinary and being in a gang gives them that, plus a form of protection, of togetherness and of being cool. So we make them feel like part of a family. So when they are walking down the street in a Block Workout T-shirt, it’s no longer, ‘what you doing around here?’ It’s no longer, ‘I am from Brixton. You are from Peckham’, It’s ‘are you going to Block Workout on Saturday?’”

The entrepreneur, who has been shortlisted for the Lambeth Best of Business awards in the ‘Business Gives Back’ category, employed ex-convicts, former alcoholics and an injured army veterans to work in his gym. “They are all now level 2 and 3 qualified personal trainers. We also have a young person doing our admin, who is brilliant at computers but was getting into a lot of trouble in school and getting into lot of fights,” Lewis revealed with pride.

He added: “He reminds me a lot of myself because they wanted to throw him on a carpentry course. I attended lots of meetings with his parents and school and I asked, ‘why are you going to put someone who is brilliant and talented with computers on a carpentry course?’”

His experience, Lewis believes, is a reflection of the plight facing many inner city children.

“I’ve been there and my mum didn’t know what to do, so she made me get on to a carpentry and brick laying course. I didn’t want to do it so I started selling drugs.”

Lewis has since created the Block Workout Foundation Academy, and is hoping to get charitable status by the end of the year.

He added: “Sometimes with these young people, it can feel like they are being put in to a box by a system that just doesn’t get them or understand their brilliance. They feel like a bird in a cage and what we want to do is unlock the door and let them fly.”

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