Brixton boy makes good and brings the neighbourhood with him
Terroll Lewis first had the idea for Brixton Street Gym back when he came out of prison in 20019/2010. He didn’t tell me what he was in prison for and I didn’t ask. Sadly, there are some neighbourhoods where it feels almost inevitable that you’ll end up behind bars at some point if you stay long enough. And Brixton? Well, arguably, it’s one of them.
One of the first things Terroll did when he got out of prison was to ask the local gym how much it costs to work out for the day. They immediately tried to get him to set up a direct debit. In Terroll’s words, “I was confused because I didn’t even know what a direct debit was. Bear in mind, I’m from the streets; I used to keep money under my bed! So I couldn’t go there.”
Left with very few options, Terroll went to a playground in one of the estates near where he lived. He figured he could use the abandoned playground to work out. He even did a YouTube video of it. To his surprise, that video got thousands of views, which got him thinking, “Wow. People are interested in seeing me train and try to get muscles, you know?” But for him that was his meditation time and kept him out of a lot of trouble.
As he carried on working out at the local block playground, “People used to walk past when I was training in that kid’s playground and they would laugh at me. They’d giggle and yell at me to go the gym like a normal person. And now? Those are the same sorts of people who will walk through the doors and grab the timetable for the Brixton Street Gym which makes me smile.”
People used to walk past…and they would laugh at me…And now? Those are the same sorts of people who will walk through the doors and grab the timetable for the Brixton Street Gym which makes me smile.
He also kept doing YouTube videos and saw it was something that was gaining attention so he decided to give it a name. It was, “The Block Workout” quite simply because he was training at the block.
As it continued to grow in popularity, Terroll says, “We started doing training in Herne Hill Brockwell park and we used to get like 100 young boys coming to train. But these boys weren’t from the sort of background that meant working out in lycra and colourful clothes. They were coming in tracksuits and leather gloves. This raised alarm bells with the council and police.”
He said police literally came to watch the sessions because it looked like they were running a fight club. But eventually the police came over and started doing pull-ups with them. Then Lambeth council invited them to a meeting. Terroll said, “I think they just wanted to build a relationship with us. Because they must’ve been thinking, “How are you getting so many young people but no trouble’s happening?”
“I went to this meeting and immediately they hit me with, “Are you even qualified for this work?” Fortunately I had already thought 10 steps ahead. All our trainers had proper training, qualifications, and the insurance that we needed. So in that meeting we slapped down all that paper in front of those suits with a smirk. From that point on they had no choice but to use us as good work in the community.”
“Over time we have built a relationship with them. They gave us a space, originally a loading bay, which we’ve turned into Brixton Street Gym. We’ve been here 5 years to the day and we’ve just signed a 3 year lease with Lambeth to open a new gym with proper showers, changing rooms, everything. We’ll be opening over there in time for summer and it’s gonna be awesome man.”
It was a pretty incredible story but there were still some gaps that I couldn’t help but follow up on. When asked about the structure of the two companies Terroll said, “The Block Workout is a full time charity. BSG is a sister company. We don’t rely on government funding but we do rely on the support of the local community and individuals who believe in what they’re doing. First and foremost it’s affordable for the community. Because a lot of these young people struggle even to afford a decent meal let alone go to a gym that’s offering nothing but inflexible pricing.”
Terroll believes the gym is more than just a gym, it’s a hub. It’s, “A place that lifts up our energy, and helps people feel that they belong, because they do! Some people have a church, others have a temple, and for me this is my place of worship. During the workout I let go of everything and it’s a healthy addiction for me.”
But, why Brixton I asked? Terroll immediately replied, “Brixton is home. There’s nowhere else I could have ever started anything else really. The amount of impact we’ve been able to have in this community…we just have to give thanks man. I’ve even got Brixton tattooed on my back and the reason for that is because it’s my foundation. It moulded me; it formed me through the struggle. During those nights when I’d have to boil the kettle to fill the bath with warm water. And I would never change the past where I’ve come from because that allows me to be able to do such work that I’m doing now with the young people effectively. Because I understand them and I can be real with them which brings us together!
We’ve got so many people from different backgrounds, religions, ethnicities, jobs, etc. We’ve got the brokers and bankers working out side by side with folks who are on probation having just come out of prison. We are all human beings and I believe we all have one purpose in common, to better ourselves.”
When asked about where he gets his entrepreneurial spirit, he says, “I’ve always been a creative hustler since I was a youngster. I’m very good at marketing and branding, I’ve always been a salesman from young. I learnt from a very young age to be a chameleon, to adapt to whatever environment I’m in.
We’re not out here to make millions,” Terroll continues, “though I do believe the millions will come, we’re out here to be able to change as many lives as possible. I’m glad we found a balance between business and community. The community is behind us and we have so much support from the people. They know the impact we’re making. Fruit and results don’t lie.”
I asked him about the new gym they’re moving into and he said, “I’m most looking forward to showers, changing rooms, and heating in the new gym. We’ve truly been through the rubble, sitting close in rooms without heating during the winter months and it means we’ve grown together. You don’t go into mainstream gyms and find that sort of community.
In here you get people interacting with you on a simple level right away like, “Hey man, you good? Have you eaten today brother? Whatcha doin’ on the weekend? The thing I love about the street gym most is the fact that people in here don’t want nothing from me, not one thing man, they just love the growth and being a part of what we’re building. I’ve been a part of the business world before and it’s a very take take kind of world. That social media world as they say. Social Media can help you to swim but it can drown you as well.
When I asked him how he feels about the gentrification in Brixton, Terroll said, “They’ve made the high street look very nice but they’ve neglected the actual neighbourhood. They’ve swept the blocks, the estates, right under the carpet. There’s so much to be done in those pockets of the community and I feel so privileged to be equipped to make a difference.”
When asked how his team go about making that difference in Brixton and beyond, he said, “I think instead of just sitting down with folks writing on paper where you wanna be in five years, I say forget that, lead by example. Let your light shine through your works and everyone will start clicking with ideas and passions and succeed together; it’s a domino effect. Sometimes, you know, people come to me and they say they want to meet up with me. I tell them, if you wanna speak to me, and progress as fast as we are here at the street gym, just come down here and start spending time in this space.
There are so many different people in here which means so many different stories and, while I don’t know exactly what’s next, it’s always gonna be something better than from what we’ve come. As for the street gyms specifically, “It’s North, East, and West London. We’re gonna lock London down with the same community driven model and then the whole of the UK.”
Sitting back at the end of the interview I can’t help but take my hat off to Terroll. He’s a young man driven to improve himself, his businesses, and his community around him. As you can see from his YouTube channel, he still lives in Brixton and the trouble that tends to find you when living in a difficult neighbourhood still rears its head every now and again but Terroll seems to be dealing with it honestly and directly, always seeking to move the bar forward. And, personally, I don’t see how you could ask much more from a man than that.