LONDON, United Kingdom — The UK government has announced a £1 billion fund to help businesses, including those in the fitness sector, hit by the recent surge in Covid cases.
Speaking today, Chancellor Rishi Sunak explained how cash grants of up to £6,000 per premises would be eligible for each company.
In addition, he revealed that financial support would also be implemented for specific businesses to help cover the cost of sick pay for Covid-related absences.
It is hoped the move will ease some of the burden currently being faced by businesses in the lead up to Christmas, as a growing number of people isolate either by choice or having contracted covid themselves.
The news follows rallying cries from businesses operating within the fitness industry, many of which have been hit hard since the beginning of the global pandemic, despite playing a crucial role in boosting the health of the general public.
In an open letter sent to the Prime Minister earlier this week, boutique fitness studios including Boom Cycle, Psycle, 1Rebel, Barry’s, KOBOX, Frame, Ten Helth & Fitness and more called for the government to take urgent action or “risk a major reduction in the supply of fitness facilities as businesses go bust through no fault of their own”.
They argued that the industry had already been decimated by a lockdown in all but name, with attendance to London’s boutique fitness industry significantly slashed.
According to Robert Rowland, Co-Founder of United Fitness Brands — a boutique fitness supergroup including Boom Cycle, KOBOX and Barrecorre — bookings for their fitness classes have dropped by up to 60% at studios in commercial locations compared to figures before the recent work from home order was introduced.
“At our studios, we implement the highest level of safety and hygiene practices, all in line with guidelines but advising people to work from home rather than the office empties out entire sections of London,” Rowland told Welltodo.
“Then, when the government decides to open again, businesses have to go through the whole process of re-hiring and re-onboarding teams in addition to all the other costs of re-opening a business after it’s been closed for any length of time,” he added.
To address these challenges, within the letter Rowland and his counterparts set out several actions they argue the government should be taking. These include:
- Urgent financial support by way of grants, an extension of the moratorium of forfeiture for tenants, a reduction in the VAT level and a reintroduction of the flexible furlough scheme.
- To be recognised as an extension of the health system apparatus and a key industry that relieves the burden of the NHS by keeping London and the ukactive.
- And agreement from the government that the fitness industry should never be closed even if there is another lockdown.
“Whilst we recognise December was a crucial month for the hospitality industry, January and February are crucial months for the fitness industry and constitute circa 50% of yearly revenue capture,” read the letter.
“Save the fitness industry by saving January and February. The fitness industry needs urgent help so that we can urgently help keep the UK active and healthy,” it concluded.
Elsewhere, not-for-profit health body ukactive has also been pushing for more backing, sending letters to three government departments to call for direct financial support for the fitness and physical activity sector.
Based on evidence from its members, it estimates that the sector has already suffered a drop in revenue of more than £200 million as a result of the current ‘Plan B’ measures in England. The existing measures have already caused a reduction in footfall to city centre facilities of up to 70%.
In its messages to the government, ukactive showed exactly why the UK needs the sector to be fully operational after Christmas in order to ensure the population is supported to maintain its physical and mental health. It also pushed for similar actions to be taken as those outlined by the boutique fitness industry.
With a new fund now set out by the government some progress has been made, however the fight for additional measures continues, especially with the threat of further restrictions looming.
Ukactive, specifically, has already issued a statement urging the government to think again, citing its omission of gyms, pools and leisure centres from access to new grant support within the financial package as shameful.
Rowland, meanwhile, told Welltodo: “Boutique fitness studios are spaces that people love — in London alone, there are around 300 studios including 114 HIIT studios, 111 mind & body studios and 53 Crossfit studios. The number of studios has been growing around 28% a year and 281% in the past 5 years.”
He continued: “Since boutique studios have been allowed to re-open in May 2021 trading has been at 50% of pre-covid levels, a level that is simply not sustainable whilst paying off VAT, CBILS, BBILS, rent arrears as well as a 20% VAT rate. While we are in a health pandemic, the government doesn’t recognise this. McDonald’s, for example, has been given a VAT rate cut but the health industry hasn’t and this is a challenge.”
With that in mind, he believes that further support is imperative in order to ensure that such a vital part of the economic and cultural landscape, especially one offering the health benefits the fitness industry does, doesn’t suffer further.
“The biggest opportunity now is for us all to come together and focus on a common goal to keep this sector alive and well. We all thrive and survive with a fit and healthy sector, as we all do with a fit and healthy public.”