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Nature's Gym: tranquil woodland workouts at Kingdom

PUBLISHED: 10:55 03 July 2018 | UPDATED: 11:27 04 July 2018

A striking wood and glass structure with a café, yoga studio and event space, the clubhouse is the natural heart of Kingdom (photo: Manu Palomeque)

A striking wood and glass structure with a café, yoga studio and event space, the clubhouse is the natural heart of Kingdom (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Fed up with the gym, spend too long staring at computer screens, lost your mojo? Here's a solution

Hands up if any of this sounds at all familiar. It’s a hot summer night after work and you’re crammed into an exercise studio with far too many other sweaty bodies throwing their limbs around in time to thumping music. There’s not even a window to give a glimpse of daylight and once you finally emerge, the ‘best’ of the evening has gone.

How about if instead you could take all the good bits that regular gym classes give you and transfer them to a tranquil woodland setting, where you have the undivided attention of a highly motivational coach whose priority is getting you to live your best life.

This is the prospect that first tantalised me when I went to the opening of Nature’s Gym set in 13 acres at a centre called Kingdom, just outside Penshurst.

The purpose-built outdoor gym has been specifically designed to inspire and empower all ages and abilities to prioritise their wellbeing and is the brainchild of young co-founders Pip Lawrence and her partner Tom Motum.

Kingdom (photo: Manu Palomeque)Kingdom (photo: Manu Palomeque)

The intrepid duo have travelled to some of the poorest, most remote parts of the world where, ironically, they were greeted by some of the healthiest and happiest individuals they’d ever come across, eating real food from the land, moving outside daily and investing time in face-to-face relationships – rather than obsessing over social media.

Pip grew up in Paddock Wood and now lives in Maidstone, where their original clinic is based. “Day One Wellness basically started in our garden gym and then expanded into the Maidstone clinic. I met the guys from Kingdom at the end of 2017 and told them my dream and vision and they said ‘we’ll see what we can do, maybe we can turn that shipping container into an outdoor gym ...’ . Which we did!”

Pip’s inspiration came from working in public health in London on a childhood obesity contract. She saw the bad effects of Western habits on youngsters who had lost their natural ability for physical activity and realised she could apply similar principles for change to adults.

Now, I’ve always exercised and maintained a pretty good diet, I’m a member of my local gym and take part in a range of fitness classes most days: did I really need a one-to-one coach in my life? Wasn’t the whole ‘wellness’ concept a bit, er, hippy-dippy?

Pip Lawrence, coach and co-founder of DayOneWellness (photo: Manu Palomeque)Pip Lawrence, coach and co-founder of DayOneWellness (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Turns out I was not only wrong on every front, but that signing up to work out with Pip for an hour a week, exercising in the fresh air and receiving tips on everything from nutrition to my sleep cycle, is also proving to be one of the best investments of my time and money I’ve ever made.

The founders of Kingdom itself are a sportsman, a banker and a restaurateur, which has proved a really good mix, Pete Cornwell of the I’ll Be Mother group of pubs and restaurants tells me.

“The three of us fell in love with the place from day one, but finding its reason to be and what we could do here has been a longer journey.

“The backbone is cycling – we’re all keen cyclists and that was the common bond between us. But we’re not building a testosterone-driven, lycra-clad race track. It’s an accessible centre for everyone.

Yoga in the sunshine on the terrace (photo: Manu Palomeque)Yoga in the sunshine on the terrace (photo: Manu Palomeque)

“What has been so interesting is the wellbeing side of the business, and how well that’s been received. ‘Nourish, Flourish and Celebrate’ are the three prongs we offer. Nourish is my background and we will eventually be putting on guest chef evenings along healthy lines and looking after yourself.

“Celebrate we’re pretty good at, we know how to throw a party and put on a wedding – but it’s Flourish that’s already the biggest.

“It’s been a really nice surprise at how well it’s been received and also the number of experts like Pip and Alice from Kingdom Yoga who are inspired by this place to offer their services.”

At the heart of Kingdom is the natural wood clubhouse with trees growing out of the open roof deck, a café run by Basil, yoga studio and a huge terrace where you can eat on sunny days and where yoga often decamps when the sun shines.

Pip Lawrence soaks up some vital Vitamin D (photo: Manu Palomeque)Pip Lawrence soaks up some vital Vitamin D (photo: Manu Palomeque)

“We’re finding the café is resonating with lots of people for lots of reasons, from a broad spectrum: we have some pretty high-powered digital nomads here on a Friday morning doing global business, then retired people who enjoy the environment and families who come for a walk or cycle ride, bring the dog, have a bit of lunch.

“However, just building the nourish side without the flourish and celebrating side wouldn’t be the same. A lot of Pip’s values are getting people outside, eating and sleeping well. I was always too impatient to sleep before, but through her I’ve learnt the importance of that reset button.”

Talking of Pip’s values, let’s head back to her customised container, now her very own Nature’s Gym. There’s a covered veranda so exercise can continue when it’s bad weather, but one of the most glorious aspects is being able to use the natural surroundings. Once you’ve done a few planks and burpees on the grass, that studio floor will seem even more uninviting.

I’m nearly halfway through my 12-week programme and for me it’s not just the exercise, although my very first one-to-one training was a revelation (seems I can’t even stand up straight!), it’s about how I’m now trying to live my life.

Wholefoods café Basil has an outlet within the centre (photo: Manu Palomeque)Wholefoods café Basil has an outlet within the centre (photo: Manu Palomeque)

I’ve introduced many everyday changes and they’ve been easy to stick to. For example, overnight fasting makes the body switch from burning food to burning fat, so a 12-hour gap between dinner and breakfast now makes perfect sense, while drinking warm water early in the morning helps boost liver and kidney functions.

Everyone on the programme starts with a biometric test, which includes blood pressure, height, weight and measurements, body fat percentage, BMI result and physical fitness tests to assess the five elements of: strength, stability, endurance, balance and flexibility.

With all members Pip and her fellow coaches look at the four cornerstones of wellbeing:

1 Mindset: what you want to achieve, prioritising yourself to be able to achieve your goals

2 Nutrition: leading your best life

3 Movement patterns: how you are moving on an hourly basis

4 Lifestyle resilience: sleep, social support, etc

“Our 12-week programme addresses each cornerstone in a lot of detail, focusing on one at a time. What people typically do when they focus on health and fitness is to try to do everything at once, create a big long list and after two weeks when they’ve stopped doing about 50 per cent of them, throw it all in and don’t do any of them,” says Pip.

“The programme is designed so you can change your lifestyle habits, one week at a time, via a little bit of homework which we discuss at your next one-to-one.

“Every week there’s half an hour of health coaching, which might be a power walk through the woods and a chat, then a self-awareness task will be set, for example keeping a food diary one week, a sleep diary the next.”

The other half of the session is personal training, focusing on my personal goals of improving my balance and getting me running.

Pip adds: “The programme is based on us empowering you to be your own wellbeing coach. At the end of the 12 weeks you will have all the knowledge and empowerment to know that you are living your best possible life.”

I’ll leave the final word to Pete. “What I’m most excited about is building and creating something with context and a five-year plan we can move towards.

“We envisage a Kingdom by the Sea, one in the Alps, we’re heading towards permaculture values and zero waste and will end up growing a lot of food on site.”

He adds: “ We may invest in glamping and camping, but again in the future. We’re not going to rush; we need to walk it before we can really talk it.”

Find out more

Kingdom, Grove Road, near Tonbridge TN11 8DU



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