UNSTOPPABLE: Suzanne, a cancer survivor, and husband Russell Bridge at a recent Relay for Life event which Gwandalan and Summerland Point Active and Healthy Society (GASPAHS) members attended.
UNSTOPPABLE: Suzanne, a cancer survivor, and husband Russell Bridge at a recent Relay for Life event which Gwandalan and Summerland Point Active and Healthy Society (GASPAHS) members attended.

Couple join forces to create services for new community

WHEN some people find their area is without services they want, they throw their hands in the air in frustration.

Russell and Suzanne Bridge just get in there and make it happen themselves.

The couple moved to the Coast to retire in 2006 and live at Gwandalan, a beautiful village on Lake Macquarie which got its name from an Aboriginal word meaning "restful place".

And while Gwandalan lives up to that name, that means its residents, many of whom are Seniors, didn't have a lot of chances for social contact.

At 65, Russell was far from ready to put his feet up, and missed the gym he and Suzanne had enjoyed in the Blue Mountains.

Having had heart problems in the past, he also knew he needed to keep fit.

"There was nix, nil, so I decided, 'right, I need to do something for the community here'," Russell said.

That was nine years ago, and he's been running classes for Seniors at the local Tunkuwallin Community Hall ever since.

The hall, once disused, has been refurbished thanks to the support of Central Coast Council and the Lions Club in "a real community effort".

Russell initially trained in the Heart Foundation's Heart Moves program, but the classes have since taken on a character of their own as Gwandalan and Summerland Point Active and Healthy Society, affectionately known as GASPAHS.

Russell said 15-30 people from over-55s to 92 attend each gym session, which runs from 8-9am three days a week.

It involves low-to-moderate exercise to music, with a range of different games and equipment available so nobody, including the trainer, gets bored.

"We have quite a few married couples who do it together, which is lovely to see," Russell said.

Classes cost just $10 upfront per term to cover rent and insurance, and $2 per class to attend, which helps support the couple's latest venture, a two-day-a-week drop-in centre.

It is Suzanne's brainchild and became a reality about three years ago.

Having experienced depression in the past, and recognising the limitations of a twice-a-day bus service, Suzanne wanted to give those stuck at home somewhere cheap, safe and happy to go and socialise with others.

"I thought it would be a good way to let people get to know each other," she said.

The original concept was to provide games, muffins and a venue, but that quickly turned into lunch with help from other ladies at the church, and now people are bringing plates of food to share.

It's so popular that when the gym and drop-in take a break over school holidays, they meet at each other's homes.

"People say how wonderful it is to have friends they can call on," Suzanne said.

One man was overwhelmed by the support and visits he received when he had to go to hospital.

"He can't get over how his life has changed since joining the group and church," Suzanne said.

"Everyone really cares about each other."

As well as operating on Monday mornings after the gym, the group runs Friday nights from 6.30-10.30pm, having taken up an event previously organised by the church before the minister retired.

Russell is also among the local lay people who now give sermons at the church, in order to keep the congregation going.

And when he's not doing that, as noted in a previous article, he sings with the Wyong Musical Theatre Company and at nursing homes with the Voice Squad trio.

Who said retirement meant winding back?

To find out more about the gym or get-togethers at Gwandalan, phone Russell on 0419271204.

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