Spinning club co-founder helps open gym in township

Sharon Jaffe wanted to give something back to her birthplace of South Africa


Sharon Jaffe and Mesuli Nale at Nale's gym in South Africa

The co-founder of a well known spinning club in north-west London has used her experience to help set up a gym in a township in South Africa.

Sharon Jaffe, 51, started The CyClub spinning club in Hampstead Garden Suburb eight years ago with her best friend and business partner Hils Bentwood, who sadly died from cancer six months ago.

Jaffe, who has just returned from a visit to the new gym near Cape Town, where she grew up, told the JC: “I am able to see one man elevate himself out of poverty.”

Seven years ago, Jaffe, who teaches spinning, came across a Facebook post via the South African Jewish Community about Mesuli Nale, a 29-year-old college-trained dancer, who wanted to start his own gym business in the township of Khayelitsha, where he lives.

Feeling motivated to help, Jaffe said: “Even though I’ve left South Africa, I must never stop giving back. Not standing by is important for Jews. While we take care of our own, we must also help others.”

She said that poverty and lack of unemployment were rife in  townships, often leading to health issues. “A lot of the locals struggle with weight because of eating fast food. There are also problems with mental health.”

Jaffe, who is a member of Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue and has a background in digital marketing, contacted Nale and was able to help with advertising, flyers, subscriptions and fundraising for spinning equipment. 

She went backwards and forwards to South Africa, visiting her mother, and was able to meet Nale in person. When she returned to London after one trip, Jaffe left behind a spin bike for him.

Nale told the JC: “There is a struggle [in my township]. I and seven other guys were the founding students of the dance academy and I was the first student in high school, but there were not a lot of jobs.” Unable to find sustainable employment, Nale decided to set up his own business.

With support from Jaffe and his college mentor –  a member of Cape Town’s Jewish community – Nale was eventually able to open Healthy Garage (HG) Fitness, a gym in the garage next door to his home.

Describing the process as “a long journey”, Nale said that his aim was to “break those walls to get to the other side, to build something solid [and] make a legacy for my children”.

He charges 50 rand (£2.09) as a joining fee and 300 rand (£12.55) for private sessions, which went up from 200 rand because of recent rand devaluation.

At the start of this year, Jaffe decided to visit the gym in Nale’s township despite her family’s reservations due to concerns for her safety.

Jaffe described it as “the most rewarding experience of my whole life“ with “beauty, positivity and potential,” and that, together, she and Nale were changing perceptions.

Jaffe sees Nale, who also teaches dance locally, as “paying it forward — the highest form of charity — teaching people to ‘fish for themselves’”.

Jaffe is no stranger to difficult times. Her father was killed in an accident when she was two and when her mother, who was deaf, was five months pregnant with her brother. 

Jaffe’s mother, who passed away a year ago, was left in financial straits so much so that after she had given birth, she didn’t have enough money to get a taxi back from the hospital.

“Being raised by a single mum who was deaf, who was my role model and also still gave so much to others, impacted me. She was such a strong and wonderful woman,” said Jaffe.

Citing Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning as another source of inspiration, Jaffe said: “People are reluctant to leave their comfort zone, [but] beautiful things happen in times of adversity.”

Nale is now thinking of moving the gym to a shack beside a nearby busy road to attract more customers. While it will require additional funding, he hopes that it will help sustain his business for the long term.

To find out more about this initiative or to help, contact Sharon Jaffe on

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