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Everyone’s having a go at Ray's new rowing challenge, now a new gym has opened at Gad's Hill school.

By Lizzie Massey

There’s nothing like a bit of rowing on a crisp February morning to get the blood pumping.

OK, so it’s not on a picturesque lake but the newly opened gym in a school means pupils, staff, and soon even parents and locals, will get the opportunity to squeeze a bit of exercise into their day.

I went to Gad’s Hill School for the launch of Ray’s Gym, named by the headmaster after PE teacher Ray Jelfs, who made it all happen.

A fully-equipped gym opens at Gad's Hill Schoolthanks to Ray Jelf
A fully-equipped gym opens at Gad's Hill Schoolthanks to Ray Jelf

Mr Jelfs has included gym tasks to help motivate the pupils and encourage a bit of friendly competition.

I was up against 15-year-old pupil Harriet Booth, in Ray’s Rowing Challenge.

She set the precedent by rowing 100m in 24 seconds. Then it came to my turn. I just managed to pip her, coming in on 23.

OK, so I’m no rowing champ-in-the-making, but it certainly brightened up a session – and I even got a certificate. It’s definitely the small things...

Lizzie Massey gets her certificate from Head Teacher, David Craggs, for winning the 100m challenge.
Lizzie Massey gets her certificate from Head Teacher, David Craggs, for winning the 100m challenge.

The gym came about when Mr Jelfs, 59, heard one in London was being refurbished and getting rid of used, but still working, equipment. With the help of some former pupils, he picked it all up in a few van trips.

A teacher at the school for 11 years, he said: “I just thought, ‘this will be really good for our kids’. It’s ideal for the GCSE pupils and PE classes and is a bit different to team sports. It’s proving very popular and we’ve already got staff coming in to use it before and after school. The cooks and cleaners use it as well.

“Health and fitness is becoming more of an issue as the number of obese children increases.”

A fully-equipped gym opens at Gad's Hill School
A fully-equipped gym opens at Gad's Hill School

The school is keen not to push pupils too far so they are always supervised and there are no free weights. Only the GCSE pupils will have use of the weight machines. The younger children will use the cardio equipment. The plan is to open the gym to parents by the end of the term, and then look at extending its use to people in the wider community in the summer.

Mr Jelfs said: “I’m coming towards the end of my career now. Maybe this will be my legacy.”

Elliot Fisher & Henry Arnold, both 16, at Ray's Gym
Elliot Fisher & Henry Arnold, both 16, at Ray's Gym

There are five treadmills and five bikes, seven weight machines and two rowers as well as mats for floor work, in what was the old school hall. With the new hall built around three years ago, the space was hardly used.

Headmaster David Craggs said: “As a charity we have a commitment to giving back to the community. This is just something else to benefit them and school.

“We already have a lot of community groups using our facilities, including our theatre and assault course. The Gravesend rugby team also use our hall for circuit training.”

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