By Dave Whatley

When people talk about Bexhill-on-sea, often a sarcastic joke mentioning ‘God’s waiting room’ will be uttered. Or maybe a more positive reference to the iconic 1930s postmodern De La Warr Pavilion will be made, with its rolling kaleidoscope of art exhibitions, theatre shows and concerts. However, a journey of less than a mile or so inland will take you, as it took me, to a pure gemstone of originality.

This year, Physiques Gym is 21 years old. Set against the deep green backdrop of Bexhill downs, it has come of age as the new youthful heart and soul of Sussex healthy living. Built on three floors of the Bexhill Athletic Centre, it provides eight fitness rooms. Unpretentious yet boldly decorated in primary colours, depicting life-size superhero cut-outs, original wall paintings and flags of the world, this gym is both inexpensive and inclusive. Everyone is embraced and celebrated for who they are: young, old, fit and unfit. It’s a model of diversity. The membership noticeably boasts a growing element of youth, straining to unleash potential.

PICTURE: Ton Janssen

Jon Bowles, former strongman champion and bodybuilder, leads the way forward with selfless passion, constantly changing and developing the facilities, and adding new equipment of high quality, which is custom-made and generally imported from the USA, though some pieces are designed and made by Physiques here in the UK.

One member who lives and works out in East London but visits his Mum in Bexhill every month or so told me: “The thing I look forward to when I work out at Jon’s place is, what’s going to be different this time?  There’s always something new to use – or the gym has literally got bigger, or changed in some way. My gym in London stays the same year in, year out, and frankly it’s a challenge to stay motivated!”

PICTURE: Ton Janssen

I am one of the original members, and competed at this year’s UKBBF (Body Building Federation) Finals in Nottingham. I didn’t start bodybuilding until my early 40’s, but have now competed nine times. I hope to inspire both young people and older people to realise that going to the gym is a lifelong sport. Even if you don’t get into bodybuilding like I have, it can help keep you in great shape and stay strong. It also helps with a positive sense of self-esteem, which a lot of people struggle with these days.

PICTURE: Ton Janssen

It’s true that Physiques helps put the magnificence back into muscle and at the same time demonstrates the most positive youthful qualities of its own: exciting change! When I joked with Jon about Bexhill and its aging population, he cut me short and retorted profoundly, “Mate, we’re all on death row, but some of us want to be hopeful, not hopeless!” In his own unique, yet Oscar Wilde-like way, he left me thinking that Physiques is like a living, site-specific, functional work of art. Well worth the visit, again and again.

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