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Free pod gym planned for Flaxmere

Levi Armstrong’s grin is infectious and his passion for health, fitness and community catching – you can tell by the number of people lining up to be involved in his ‘gym in a pod’ initiative.

His outdoor exercise pod in Maraenui, which provides free gym workouts in the heart of the community, can attract up to 60 participants per class.

And now a pod for Flaxmere is on his list – hopefully early in the new year. It will be his fourth.

The model is working, removing barriers to getting fit by providing a fully equipped community gym (with speakers and lighting), holding the workouts outdoors, and making them free and accessible.

Levi graduated with a Masters in Health Science (with Distinction) in 2021, with his first pod going in at the end of that year. It was a real highlight in his 15-year career in the health and fitness game.

His programme brings together his earlier initiatives: M.E.K.E (Move, Engage, Konnect, Evolve) – a fitness initiative for people not able to get to a gym or afford the fees, and the award-winning Patu Aotearoa, a group exercise programme for Maori and Pasifika, and adds in the Domynis – the mobile container gym and flexible-use space that can hold all the equipment needed for community-accessible workouts.

“We want to remove barriers to exercise, which leads to removing barriers to good health. As well as being accessible, group exercise is a great way to get people who wouldn’t normally go to a gym to take part.”

Developed by Levi (Ngati Kahungunu), every step along the way has been ‘by Māori, for Māori’, in recognition of the health inequities suffered by Māori, particularly those living in high-deprivation areas.

There have been some unexpected but very welcome extra outcomes from the pods. “We’re now running Health and Fitness Level 2 Foundation Certificates for some or our members, and some of those are going on to Level 4.”

One of the early up-takers, Coven Ratama, lost 30kgs through the programme and, with wife Jane, is now running sessions out of the Maraenui pod.

“Others have gone on to join traditional gyms or sports teams – many hadn’t been fit and well for years and it is so cool to see them wanting to take it even further.”

The pods are designed to be open access, so anyone can run sessions out of them. Levi says he has already connected up with others running exercise or fitness programmes in Flaxmere, who might want to run sessions out of the pod.

Levi gives much credit to the team involved in both the fitness initiatives and achieving his Masters, especially wife Dana, who was doing her Masters at the same time.

“It was pretty busy,” he grins. “We were both studying during COVID lockdown with our four kids (now aged four to 15) needing to do their school work and running around.”

Also high on the list is cousin Whare Timu – a noted Hawke’s Bay architect now based in Wellington. “We designed the containers together, based on thinking about tiny homes – the way we can use a small space to get maximum output to our communities.”

And of course the sponsors of the charitable organisation, which provide support for the programme and funding for the pods. So far those have included Napier City Council, Eastern and Central Community Trust, the Lottery Grants Board and EIT.


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