Pony Club Gym A Place for ALL
To celebrate International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), held on 17 May, Vicsport takes a look at Pony Club Gym, an inclusive fitness studio in Preston.
Operating under the notion that all people deserve to have a place to access strength, fitness and wellbeing, Pony Club Gym and owner Ella Mason offer safe and supportive space for those who typically struggle to access a usual gym setting.
“Gyms are not always comfortable spaces for a lot of people, no matter their lifestyle, and I wanted to create a space where people felt they could be their authentic selves,” Ella said. “I have a brick garage in my backyard so I figured I would start there.”
Momentum for the makeshift gym grew quickly as Ella’s idea resonated with a number of people looking for weightlifting and strength training. This encouraged Ella to look for a bigger space, settling on a place on High Street, Preston in October 2019. Everything was set to open in early 2020, unfortunately right at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Battling through a very difficult time for so many small businesses, Pony Club Gym (named in honour of gym members watching themselves in mirrors and acting like ‘show ponies’) did not advertise, instead utilising word of mouth, Instagram as well as being featured at events such as RMIT University’s Pride in Sport Week.
“We have the usual fitness set-up when you walk in but I would not say it is like a regular gym,” said Ella. “I’ve reflected a bit of my own personality in the space and we have very clear guidelines for what is and isn’t ok but it’s a very warm gym. Everyone is welcoming and the community we have created have been able to turn it into something that is their own and a place they have a real connection to.”
Three coaches, including Ella, offer qualified Olympic weightlifting and strength and conditioning education as well as recovery and injury management while adaptable equipment allows for disability access.
“People may not realise how costly it is just to set up a space and have the necessary equipment for a gym. Including adaptable equipment for people with disability means they are often pushed to the side but that is not good enough and I am hoping to set up a dedicated disability space soon.”
While Pony Club Gym has offered a place for people who typically struggle to access a regular gym setting to come together, Ella is conscious of the separation that still exists in the fitness world.
“It is good for other gyms to direct enquiries to a place like Pony Club but it would be great to see our practices reflected in the ‘regular’ gyms. People sometimes get confused that we are a queer-only gym but we have participants from every walk of life; the overall connection is that they all feel safe to come here.
“Gyms may think they don’t need to be trans-inclusive for example because they don’t have any trans people come to their gyms. However, they cannot know that and it is important to show that they are welcoming so new members can feel safe.
“Sometimes, society has a notion that things need to be separate but I think we need to not look so much at why a place like Pony Club is inclusive, and more at why people feel other gyms are exclusive.”