Gym owner says restrictions are 'damaging' to business and public's mental health

Darren Beattie


Darren Beattie


A local gym owner has hit out at the NI Executive for "cutting off" more than half of his income with new coronavirus restrictions.

Gyms are allowed to remain open for individual training, but as part of the new rules, no classes are permitted.

Pauric Grimes owns The Edge gym in Augher and spent a substantial amount of money during the first lockdown earlier this year to ensure his premises complied with strict safety measures.

He claims group sessions account for over 50 per cent of his income and he fears his business will "reach a point where he can no longer keep his doors open" unless financial support is available.

"The most obvious issue is that they have put restrictions on classes and group training," Pauric said. "They have cut off probably more than 50 per cent of our income.

"The grant we received in the initial lockdown was spent covering the bills when we were closed and installing pods, updating our booking software and all of the cleaning products, which is not cheap.

"We re-shaped a good part of the gym to ensure it would be a safe and comfortable place for people to come in and train."

As part of the new support scheme, medium businesses are to receive £2,400 every fortnight that they are in lockdown. Pauric, though, is still anxiously waiting to see if his business is entitled to anything.

"Financial assistance wouldn't make up for all of the shortfalls - but it would go a long way to being able to pay bills and keeping ourselves right," said Pauric.

Pauric also points to research by the gyms' trade body UK Active which found that for 22 million visits across England between July 25 and September 13 only 78 cases have been reported.

"We have pivoted our entire business service to small group training because the larger classes were being taken off the table," added Pauric. "But at least we had been able to take between six and eight people - but now that is gone as well."

And Pauric fears another lockdown and more restrictions will be introduced before the year is out.

"Uncertainty over what is advised and what isn't, what's safe and what is not, that in itself has major consequences in terms of business.

"We are leading from the front. We were one of the first gyms to go down the pod route and we've seen numerous others follow how we operate as they've seen how successful it has been for us.

"Nonetheless, looking toward 2021, you can't help but wonder will there be a gym to open at all unless either more support is put in place or these illogical restrictions are lifted.

"We're just hoping that we get to a point where things go back to some kind of normality and we are in a position to survive. We have equipment, rent, staff to pay, and livelihoods of multiple people in here.

"We are disappointed that no one has reached out and asked our opinion on what is a realistic approach to take to keep businesses open."

Pauric claims that the approach the government has taken is "damaging" to not only his business, but the mental health of the general public.

"Banning group sessions without any knowledge or context or how people participate in them is indicative of the overall approach that’s been taken with the current lockdown measures: uninformed and damaging," he said.

"We have invested thousands of pounds to ensure the safety of our members in all aspects of their training experience, be that with a coach, in a class or in one of our training pods.

"We have a 12,500 square foot facility that easily allows us to accommodate the two metre social distancing recommendations. In fact, we go above and beyond this because we’re lucky enough to have the space to - and we’re being lumped into the same 'fitness class' as a back shed gym that squeezes as many people through their doors as they can fit.

"Group sessions, when planned effectively, can be easily adapted to ensure a safe training environment.

"Social distancing, no shared equipment, sanitiser on entry and exit, cleaning equipment after use and, most importantly, staying away if you feel unwell or are showing any symptoms of illness is how group training should be not only incorporated but encouraged moving forward.

"There’s a number of reasons why people choose to train in a group setting as opposed to on their own, the social aspect of being a part of a community, affordability in comparison to one to one sessions, a lack of knowledge to be able to go it alone.

"By banning it you’re removing the only chance an awful lot of the public are going to have to not only train, but to be apart of a healthy, positive community, and that in itself has the potential to be incredibly harmful to the mental health of countless lives."

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