Former Mr Universe winner Eddy Ellwood told Teesside Magistrates’ Court he reopened his gym Xtreme Fitness, in Hartlepool, after members rang him with suicidal thoughts during lockdown
Image: Teesside Live)
A former Mr Universe winner opened his gym during the coronavirus lockdown after one of his members took their own life.
Champion bodybuilder Eddy Ellwood fought back tears as he described how gym members would share suicidal thoughts with him during the shutdown.
He reopened Xtreme Fitness gym in Hartlepool, County Durham, to help people with their mental health and also to protest against the restrictions.
Ellwood, 58, described his gym as a “mental health hospital” and said he received emails telling him “you saved my life” after the reopening, Teesside Live reports.
The former Mr Universe appeared at Teesside Magistrates’ Court for the first day of the two-day trial after denying alleged breaches of Covid-19 legislation on February 2 and February 7 last year.
He has also denied breaching a prohibition notice issued by Hartlepool Council on each of the two days.
The bodybuilder told the court he had become an activist against the lockdown legislation following the death of a gym member to suicide.
Ellwood initially started a support group which would meet in Sunderland’s Herrington Country Park and later they started to meet at his gym.
He said: “People were ringing me with suicidal intentions and I wasn’t going to let that happen again.
“These people were isolated and on their own. The human interaction was all that they needed.
Andy Commins/Daily Mirror)
“Gyms are not about fitness, they are about supporting each other. They are mental health hospitals.
“You have to understand the importance of physical exercise to someone who has done it all their lives, it’s part of their medication. They need it.”
Ellwood said although people were allowed to use the equipment at the Xtreme Fitness gym, that was not the purpose for it being open – on reduced hours – it was for people to make a peaceful protest against the coronavirus restrictions and also to act as support for those experiencing mental health problems.
He said there were posters and a barrier up stating it was only open for peaceful protestors and that people were socially distancing.
He also calculated that the average age of those who went along was 33.4 years old so were not in the older, more at risk group.
The gym owner said: “I was supporting individuals for mental health and it was a protest against the coronavirus act.
“I had people coming up and saying ‘you have no idea how much this has meant to us’ for what I did.
“I have emails saying ‘you saved my life’.”
Ellwood, whose address was given as that of the business, said 100% he would do it again.
He said: “If this happened again I would do whatever it took to save another man’s life.
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“I haven’t caused any man or woman any suffering. I am the victim of a crime here.”
The charges are being brought by Hartlepool Council and claim Ellwood contravened a direction by allowing people to enter the premises, other than to work.
However, Ellwood claims he didn’t break any laws because everyone has a right to carry out a peaceful protest, which is what he claims he and the people in the gym were doing.
Defense witness, Samantha Egan, told the court how she traveled from her home in Whiteleas, South Shields, to the Hartlepool gym because she wanted to feel supported and to be able to share stories and feelings with other people.
She said the premises were not operating as a gym.
She said: “I just felt relieved that I wasn’t the only person going through what I was experiencing.
“Just being with other people, being able to talk to them.”
Another witness, Stephen Worthy, from Hartlepool’s Endeavor Close, said he had lost two friends to suicide and his own mental health was suffering so he decided to go along to the peaceful protests at the gym.
He said: “It was the fact that you felt you were part of something again.”
The trial continues.