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Former Newbury teacher celebrates year of Zoom fitness classes

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, he has given his fans a reason to smile, keep fit and improve their mental health.

But now Newbury’s ‘very own Joe Wicks’ - as one of his supporters described him - says he is glad to be teaching his free fitness classes in person again after more than 12 months doing it via Zoom.

Former St Bartholomew’s School PE teacher Mike Hart has been running his popular sessions since 1971 and has amassed quite a following.

73-year-old Mike Hart has been running virtual fitness classes throughout the pandemic over Zoom.
73-year-old Mike Hart has been running virtual fitness classes throughout the pandemic over Zoom.

The 73-year-old was due to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of his keep fit classes in March, but the pandemic somewhat scuppered those plans.

All of a sudden, his face-to-face classes - which he usually runs from the sports field at St Bart’s - were cancelled.

However, undeterred, Mr Hart set up virtual classes via Zoom with the help of his daughter Katie, who has been ‘looking after the technical side of things’ from her home in Dubai.

He has managed to put on three classes a week every week since, which have been attended by around 35 people, all of whom are over the age of 60.

Mr Hart, who ran the PE department at St Bart’s and was head of Curnock House told the Newbury Weekly News: “A lot of people have said it has been a great support to them throughout the pandemic - not just physically but mentally as well. They said it gives them some routine and something to look forward to.

"I’m not a big online person. I hate computers to be honest and I probably wouldn’t have done it if it hadn’t been for my daughter saying 'Dad I will do all technical stuff'. She just sends me the link three times a week and hosts the whole thing from Dubai.

“It’s lovely because it means I get to see her too. I haven’t seen her in person since December 2019 because of the pandemic and we are missing her terribly.”

Through the keep fit group, Mr Hart has been encouraging members to make donations to Newbury Cancer Care (NCC).

During lockdown he grew and sold tomato plants, raising more than £1,000 to help NCC buy PPE equipment for the volunteer drivers who take people with cancer to a number of local hospitals.

Mr Hart was highly commended at the 2018 Newbury Town Council Community Champion Awards for his efforts keeping Newbury's (mostly more mature) folk fit while raising money for charity.

He said: “I have an active life. I spend three afternoons teaching at Thorngrove School in Highclere and I have an allotment too. I like to keep myself busy.”

Mr Hart, who has lived in Newbury since 1969 having moved to the town from Cambridge, is still running virtual classes three times a week as well as two days a week face to face at St Bart's.

He said it was 'lovely' to be teaching in person again, but joked that in the first session back he 'couldn't get anyone to do anything because they were too busy talking having not seen each other for so long'.

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