LONDON, United Kingdom — Not-for-profit health body ukactive is continuing to push for more support for the UK’s fitness industry following the delay to the end of lockdown restrictions.
Speaking about the Government’s decision to push back the easing of all restrictions on social distancing in England from 21st June to 19th July, CEO of ukactive Huw Edwards said:
“We respect the Government’s safety considerations and the decision to delay the relaxing of restrictions (in England until 19th July) however, it is imperative that this comes hand-in-hand with additional support for our nation’s fitness and leisure facilities.”
Adding: “Our members are facing a cliff-edge moment on 1st July when the moratorium of forfeiture comes to an end and business rates are set to be reintroduced. Employer contributions to furlough payments recommencing from 1st July only add to the perfect storm facing the fitness and leisure sector.”
According to ukactive, an estimated 400 facilities across the sector had closed by the end of the first quarter in 2021, and thousands more will be at risk of closure if the Government does not commit to a solution on rent.
With that in mind, ukactive has called for an urgent response from the Government to the recommendations set out in its sector consultation, including the ring-fencing of COVID-related arrears, the reduction of rent due during closures and restricted trading, and an extension to the current date for lifting protection measures.
In addition, Edwards said the industry association had also called for phase two of the National Leisure Recovery Fund which is desperately needed by public operators, as well as VAT relief for private operators.
An industry on a knife-edge
Since the Government’s announcement prominent industry figures have also spoken out about the decision, with Pip Black, Co-Founder of FRAME saying:
“The closures and social distancing restrictions have impacted the fitness industry in a huge way. Operating with reduced class sizes means that there is little chance of making any profit with reduced margins and our business has forecasted to be running at full capacity from this date which is now no longer going to happen.”
She continued: “This announcement will also damage consumer confidence in the industry, even though the data from the start of the pandemic shows that the transmission rate is very low across the sector, with the industry going over and above in the way that COVID secure procedures have been integrated into the operations of the business whilst still enabling a fantastic customer experience.”
Martin Franklin, CEO Les Mills Europe at Les Mills, echoed Black’s sentiment, acknowledging that the safety of communities is paramount, so a phased re-opening of society is important to ensure that. But he also explained how group exercise has some of the most stringent and controllable COVID-safe protocols of all business sectors.
“In England pre-COVID, 4.86 million people took part in group exercise each week. And, our most recent Global Consumer Fitness survey revealed that 45 percent of gym-goers gave group exercise as the main reason for attending their gym, with those who attend group exercise classes going to the gym twice as much as other members,” he told Welltodo.
“In fact, clubs have seen such a demand for classes since they re-opened that many have increased the timetable dramatically and continued with both indoor and outdoor classes,” he revealed.
“There’s no denying that a reduction in the capacity for classes has and will impact the sector,” he further commented.
Elsewhere, Luke Bullen, CEO for Gympass UK and Ireland warned: “Our industry is on a real knife-edge, with capacity numbers hampered by ongoing restrictions. Further delays to our industry fully reopening could prove to be disastrous if the Government doesn’t provide extra support.”
In fact, according to a recent study analysing data from 2,600 of the corporate fitness platform’s partners, before news of the devastating delay, the UK fitness industry had been making positive progress. Having surpassed the halfway mark for recovery at the end of May 2021 — a better trajectory than the previous reopening periods in August and October 2020 — the market was well on its way to bouncing back.
However, with the government now pushing back ‘Freedom Day’ and delaying the lifting of remaining restrictions, Bullen argues that this will set the industry back once again and could see some facilities closing permanently.
“The Government must do more than pay lip service to its health commitments. Enabling people to get back to the gym has a far-reaching impact, and we must keep the pressure on to restore full capacity as soon as it’s safe to do so,” he commented.