‘It feels like gyms are being completely ignored’

‘It feels like gyms are being completely ignored’

But fitness firms were given no targeted support.

They will have to continue to apply for discretionary grants from councils.

“It feels we are being completely ignored and it’s heart-breaking,” said Sandy Macaskill, co-founder of Barry’s UK, a gym chain which has eight UK sites.

Since “Plan B” measures were introduced in England, with people advised to work from home where they can, Mr Macaskill has had to close three of his London sites temporarily because of low footfall.

Takings are down almost 60% across the business compared with pre-pandemic levels. And at one Barry’s UK studio in east London, fewer than 100 people visit per day, compared to 500 pre-pandemic.

“People aren’t going into work in areas like Canary Wharf, so it doesn’t make financial sense to run classes there,” he told the BBC.

“The government genuinely doesn’t understand the devastating impact on our sector.”

It has called for additional support, such as a lower VAT rate in line with other sectors and the reintroduction of the furlough scheme.

It also believes gyms, leisure centres and fitness firms should have been offered the targeted grants being provided to struggling hospitality firms.

“It is vital that the government does not take our sector for granted and provides the required support for our members,” boss Huw Edwards said.

“Gyms, pools, studios and leisure centres are dealing with a major loss in footfall and are facing the prospect of a decline in new members this January.”

Even if fitness businesses had been included in the chancellor’s £6,000 grant funding, Mr Macaskill said this would have been “measly”, totalling less than a day’s worth of revenue at one of the Barry’s UK studios.

‘We would seriously struggle’
A decline in footfall this month has also worried Ashton Turner, who runs Evolve 353, an independent gym in Parsons Green, London.

Since the advice to work from home, the gym has been running at 30% capacity and Mr Turner was shocked that he had not had any inquiries for New Year joiners.

He also has concerns about what further restrictions in January might mean, particularly after last year’s lockdown.

“We would seriously struggle to run and I’d have to let staff go,” he said.

Pre-pandemic the gym had 147 members, which fell to 80 after the third lockdown, but despite a steady recovery since then, it only has 105 now.

Many of its members are NHS staff and “really depend” on the gym for their training and mental health, Mr Ashton said.

‘Long-term damage’
It’s a similar story for Simply Gym, which runs four sites in Wales and two in England. It has also seen a significant drop in attendance at a time when membership levels are still not back at pre-pandemic levels.

“The challenge is if we are open, but people are too worried to visit in key January and February trading months,” said Simply Gym’s chief executive, Richard Proctor.

Gyms are able to apply for grants from their local authorities, but Mr Proctor said this had been “inconsistent” in the past, with funding requests turned down by some local authorities.

Mr Proctor said that losing sales in January would put the business’s recovery back by up to 12 months. He’s already had to put new site acquisitions on hold while the company focuses on survival.

“The long term damage to public confidence is an ongoing killer,” he added.

‘Frankly staggering’
Fitness sector group the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (Cimspa) urged the Chancellor to “rapidly rethink” the current funding and provide a “bespoke package of support”.

“In the middle of a national health crisis, and in the midst of winter, it is frankly staggering that the government does not recognise the value of a sector that helps to keep the nation physically and mentally fit and employs hundreds of thousands of people,” chief executive Tara Dillon said.

“This takes the total amount of available unspent grants funding to £350m and comes on top of 75% business rates relief over the year, the recovery loan scheme, Time to Pay and the reintroduced Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme.”