Fitness facilities are essential businesses

Our CEO Kevin Yates discusses the campaign to classify gyms and fitness facilities as essential businesses and why collaboration and research is the key to navigating this next phase.

It’s an outcome none of us wanted but sadly expected – a second lockdown in order to better contain the spread of COVID-19 with gyms and fitness studios on the list of facilities and businesses mandated to close. Yes, we are better prepared this time in terms of how we can support our members and customers virtually with the majority of operators expediting the digitalisation of their workout offering over the course of the first lockdown and the ensuing months post reopening but that won’t make this next phase any easier on our teams nor make this less of an unfair, uninformed indictment of our industry. The call to classify gyms as essential businesses is a vital one which must be championed by all of us.

In the first lockdown we were fighting for a voice and a platform to demonstrate the robust work done across the sector to make our locations covid-secure – something that ukactive, operators and consumers have pursued tirelessly even after the July reopening of the UK fitness industry. It was clear further restrictions might be a reality so time, effort and collaboration was poured into vital research and insight to evidence how safe and pivotal fitness facilities are. As well as efforts to continue amplifying our voice and our purpose at governmental level to better inform a narrative that has, at times, been significantly off the mark. Including one infamous moment in which an established political leader inaccurately yet publicly described gyms as ‘hotbeds’ for transmission of the virus with no evidence to support the claim.

Our sector is essential to the battle with Covid-19 directly supporting the nation’s health, wellbeing and resilience – both physically and mentally. Physical activity is proven to help manage the key factors that increase susceptibility to the virus. Recent research conducted by Sport England regarding activity levels in the first lockdown, showed that loss of access to fitness facilities damaged activity levels significantly. Likewise, data collated for the UK across the whole period since the sector reopened – measured from 25 July to 11 October – showed fitness facilities saw more than 45 million visits, with an overall rate of just 0.99 cases per 100,000 visits.

The case is clear to campaign for gyms to be classed as essential businesses but as operators – responsible for such an important provision for millions of consumers – we must never lose sight of our role in ensuring our facilities remain covid-secure and be constantly vigilant to never let our standards slip. We will reopen in due course and we must make sure the protection of every single person who comes through our doors is our most important and consistent priority. If we are successful in evidencing we belong in the essential business category this will come with audits and governance that we must be ready for.

Collaboration and unity is imperative. Over the last couple of days there have been some individualised protests and stunts in response to the closure of gyms – some of which feel like they’re trivialising this vitally important conversation. The campaign to classify fitness facilities as essential fitness facilities must be grounded in rational insight, clear evidence and collaborative dialogue. I implore anyone out there considering these kind of actions - consult the operators, talk to the people affected, understand the current picture before you act. You are representing millions of people – gym goers, team members, owner / operators – in one of the most important conversations we’ve ever had.

Kevin Yates, CEO

A pioneer of the boutique fitness model in the UK, Kevin co-founded TRIB3 after decades of international experience in the health and leisure sector creating and nurturing disruptive, market- leading concepts.

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