For lots of us going to the gym is a vital way of dealing with stress.

However, one of the many difficult things about the coronavirus crisis is that it has put us all under strain at the same time as closing off this particular avenue of relief for long periods.

However, community interest company iCan Health and Fitness, in Carlisle, has been working hard to make sure it still does what it can for the health and wellbeing of its members and others.

A not-for-profit business, iCan is paid for by its members and a number of funding bodies and runs exercise classes and wellbeing sessions exclusively for women of all ages and abilities.

The National Lottery community fund has been providing funding to iCan since 2019, alongside other bodies such as Cumbria County Council and Sport England.

An evaluation of the “social return on investment” offered by iCan in 2018/19 found that for every £1 invested in the business the wider community benefited to the tune of £12.50.

“That could be a saving for the NHS, or PIP payments or it could be a saving compared to what people are investing in their own health and wellbeing,” says co-founder Lisa Dykes.

Before the pandemic, iCan was working with 4000 people a week, with 93 per cent saying they had improved their health and wellbeing while 86 per cent said they felt empowered to improve not only their own health and wellbeing but their family’s as well.

Over 70 per cent said they felt less socially isolated and 69 per cent said they felt their mental wellbeing had improved.

Although its fitness centre in Bridge Street has been closed for much of the last 12 months, iCan has been running workout sessions on Zoom, as well as in various parks around the city when this has been allowed.

Its Zoom workouts range from cardio workouts to more relaxed strength training and it has also been offering regular free peer support sessions funded by Cumbria Community Foundation.

“That’s a chance for people to get together and talk about what they’re going through, whether they need health and wellbeing advice, whether they’re just feeling a bit down or if they just need somebody to talk to,” says Lisa.

“We are well aware that Covid has been creating more social isolation and that is something we were trying to tackle before Covid and it’s something we are trying to tackle now.”

It is also offering online wellbeing sessions based around creative writing or crafts funded by the Social Enterprise Support Fund.

The business has also developed its iCan at Home platform, which offers pre-recorded workouts and provides information on health and wellbeing.

With so many free workout videos available on the internet these days, Lisa says she believes people have been willing to pay to access the content because of confidence in their team and its personal service.

“We know every member’s health and medical history and what they want to achieve so that workouts and sessions can be tailored around them to suit their needs,” she says.

In line with Government guidelines iCan reopened its centre in Carlisle on April 12.

Its mobile ‘Wheels of Wellness’ van - which offers physical and mental health outreach services to people around the county - is also back on the road and its WeCan community wellbeing hub in Carlisle is offering one-on-one sessions.

However, despite the easing of restrictions it will still be offering a variety of online classes and sessions to continue reaching people who cannot access them directly.