The Incomparable Chainstore Gym
When the manager of our still-new London training facility, the Chainstore, asked me to write a retrospective piece for the one-year anniversary of the building opening I of course agreed instantly and, being busy with jumping off stuff and all, left it at that. A few days later when I came to begin the cat-herding process that is gathering my thoughts, in order to write a comparative ‘before and after’ article, I found an interesting stumbling block: I couldn’t actually remember what London was like before the Chainstore Gym existed.
This was a problem, particularly when it came to penning a ‘before and after’ piece.
However, true to the core philosophy of parkour I was able to navigate the unforeseen obstacle by… simply avoiding it altogether. Hence, this isn’t a comparative piece at all but rather an exploration of the textured and intricate emotional responses to the very idea of the now-legendary building that is the Chainstore Gym and Parkour Academy. Or something like that. Whatever; here we go.
So, it’s been a year to the day since we opened the building, nestled within Trinity Buoy Wharf in East London, just minutes from the mighty financial centre that is Canary Wharf. And a lot’s happened in that time. A lot. The Chainstore has seen some major annual events take up residence within it’s hallowed scaffolds and squat racks: the Women’s International Parkour Weekend back in May 2014; the original Rendezvous gathering in August; the new Chainstore Massacre which broke the mould in November; and the epic Double ADAPT Challenge in December.
Sprinkled liberally around these there were seminars, workshops and classes of all sorts, including the groundbreaking inaugural Movement Fitness Specialist certification courses in the UK – accredited by CYQ and now the official UK parkour-based fitness certifications for gym instructors and personal trainers – as well as an avalanche of press events, media shoots, photography events and even the amazing Alice in Wonderland live parkour performance piece put on by our own young Developing Athletes. The building has been featured on BBC and ITV news, in the Times, the Telegraph, the Independent, Timeout, Men’s Fitness, Health Club Management, the Metro… the list goes on. It made headlines, to say the least.
The building has been featured on the BBC and ITV news, in the Times, the Telegraph, the Independent, Timeout, Men’s Fitness, Health Club Management, The Telegraph again, Ski Club, The Evening Standard, the Metro, Fitcetera… the list goes on. It made headlines, to say the least.
But none of that is why I can’t remember the city before the coming of the Chainstore, also affectionately known as the Gainstore by those who train there, or the Painstore by those who suffer there. No, it can’t be attributed to individual happenings or specific days, or even to big noises made in the media. It comes down to something far more nebulous, amorphous and fluid. It comes down to community.
Without community, a building is just that – a building. Soulless, vacuous, lifeless. No matter how bright the lights, how fancy the equipment, how hi-tech the gear… it’s meaningless without the people who infuse a place with energy, enthusiasm, laughter, spirit; with life. And the community that has shifted its centre of focus to the Chainstore and built up around the brick and concrete of that fairly majestic listed building is one of a kind.
It’s also a tough community to define, as it’s definitely not one-size-fits-all. Chainstorers come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life and all kinds of backgrounds: young (18 months the youngest) and old (87 the oldest), elites and initiates, men and women, local and international… people come from near and far to train at this unique facility, but the one thing they do all have in common is a love for movement and a desire to push their limits in their search for personal physical and mental development.
On any given day you’ll be rubbing shoulders with parkour experts, champion weightlifters, master acrobats, wild-eyed Youth Academy padawans, fitness enthusiasts, dancers, photographers, artists, film crew, martial artists and a few people I haven’t even worked out how to categorize yet. Oh, and the odd dog.
I’ve never been much of a gym-goer, truth be told. Most of the club chains I find to be too sterile, too padded, with outdated and ineffective training methods and tools, not enough space for movement, very little true challenge and, worst of all, no character. No spirit! Almost all of my own training has been outside, where parkour was born and where it finds its true home; but this place feels like the outside brought inside. And that’s not only due to its design, which uses materials of stone, steel and wood that we typically find in an urban environment, but also a result of the people who pass through the doors. You can see that they are bigger than any four walls can contain, but they choose this place as a focal point; as an anchor for their training and a source of knowledge, inspiration and friendship.
That’s what makes it unique, for me, and what makes it feel like a place in which I want to train. There are no judgements made there, no hierarchies or competitions, no showboating and no elitism – even though it’s filled with some of the most elite movement practitioners and athletes you’ll encounter in one place. All are made welcome, from absolute beginners on this path to those whose cups floweth over with knowledge and experience. They all muck in together, they all share the space, the bars, the walls, the weight plates, the beanbags. They’re all on their own personal journey, but they’re very happy to share the road with other travellers.
And that’s parkour. That sense of community, humility, openness, it’s been there from the early days and has been at the heart of everything we’ve done. The Chainstore is a physical incarnation of that, and also of the unbreakable spirit one can build through good parkour training. Because this place will test you, too. The people, the coaches, the classes – all carry the same high standards and aim for nothing short of excellence. They’ll be kind, but they’ll be tough. And you’ll find yourself wanting to match them, to reach those standards and eventually, hopefully, surpass them. Indeed, you’ll be encouraged to.
The Chainstore Gym has already, in its short lifespan, made an indelible mark on the history of parkour and movement training in the UK. There are some great independent gyms out there, with their own strengths and spirit, their own strong communities. But there aren’t any quite like this one. Gym, parkour academy, monster factory… whatever it is to you, it’s just not up for comparison.