Sunderland stars Duncan Watmore and Max Power open new fitness garden at Salvation Army centre

A pair of Sunderland stars were on hand to officially open a new fitness area for men and women who are rebuilding their lives at a Salvation Army residential centre on Wearside.

Black Cats players Duncan Watmore and Max Power were at Swan Lodge Lifehouse in High Street East as the new Garden of Light facility was formally opened.

Salvation Army Swan Lodge new health space The Garden of Light opened by SAFC players Duncan Watmore and Max Power.

Salvation Army Swan Lodge new health space The Garden of Light opened by SAFC players Duncan Watmore and Max Power.

The new site brings together outdoor fitness equipment in a peaceful chill-out zone next to the residential accommodation.

Residents, many of who have been left homeless due to drink and drug problems, can enjoy a picnic on the garden's artificial lawn, sit in the pagoda to take part in crafting or work up a sweat on the outdoor equipment – there is an air-walker, two sit-up benches, a stand and twist machine, cross-trainer and two dips bars for good measure.

At present, there is a daily lunchtime session for staff and residents and further plans are in place for gym and yoga-style sessions to be included in a regular programme

The garden’s name was decided by the residents, making a casual reference to Sunderland AFC’s Stadium of Light, which has partnered with the centre on a number of occasions to provide additional opportunities to the residents.

Salvation Army Swan Lodge new health space The Garden of Light opened by SAFC players Duncan Watmore and Max Power.

Salvation Army Swan Lodge new health space The Garden of Light opened by SAFC players Duncan Watmore and Max Power.

In addition to the new gym, the residents can take part in further education courses, learn more about nutrition and cooking, be part of the football team, take part in camping trips and photography expeditions, all offered by the centre.

Attacking player Duncan, who is currently making a return to action following serious injury, said: "It's part of our responsibility as players to come out and meet people and openings like this and we get a lot of satisfaction from doing it.

"Fitness is so important for people's mental health and even from my experience, when I've been out injured for long periods I felt miserable because I couldn't get out and do stuff.

"Having the chance to be active plays a massive role in a person's mental wellbeing."

Sunderland player Max Power with Swan Lodge Lifehouse resident Mark.

Sunderland player Max Power with Swan Lodge Lifehouse resident Mark.

Lifehouse resident Mark, 30, said: "It'll be good to have this on the site rather than having to go out and pay for a gym.

"I've been here since January. I was homeless after problems with drinking.

"I've been getting into football sessions here and learning Maths and English skills, so I'm doing well."

Specialist support worker Stephen Park, who leads the sporting activities at the Lifehouse, said: “Every day we work with our residents to provide tailored support as they work towards rebuilding their lives after homelessness.

Swan Lodge Lifehouse resident Dionne with Sunderland AFC player Duncan Watmore.

Swan Lodge Lifehouse resident Dionne with Sunderland AFC player Duncan Watmore.

"Not only do we encourage them to share their vision for what they want to achieve, we also encourage them to consider their overall health and wellbeing – whether that’s through taking part in our cookery programme to make nutritious healthy meals or getting fit and active with our football team and now through our outdoor gym."

He added: “We hope that as residents engage in the activities it will also encourage them to make this a starting point for becoming more active and to keep this up when they move on from Swan Lodge.”