14 January 2021
Mr Julian Knight MP
Chairman of the DCMS Select Committee
Dear Mr Knight,
I am writing to thank you and the members of the DCMS select committee for inviting me to take part in the session on Tuesday morning, which I found to be an enjoyable and constructive discussion. I am grateful for the opportunity to share my perspectives on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on PureGym and the wider sector, especially how the Government could better support this industry, which has been devastated by forced closure and has such a vital role to play in improving the health of the nation.
As you and the Committee reflect on your recommendations to DCMS I thought it helpful to summarise my suggestions for you to consider.
The COVID-19 pandemic has laid waste to the gym and fitness industry. Going into the crisis, the industry had around 7,000 facilities, serving 10-11 million members and providing employment for around 500k people. Gyms were pretty much the most common way people stay active, second only to walking, however based on current estimations our sites will have to remain closed until the end of March. In total, this means that gyms in the UK will have been shut for up to 34 weeks out of 54 and unlike other industries there are no ‘takeaway’ or online options to generate trade. This equates to zero revenue for over half a year, which clearly presents a massive existential threat for the industry.
Our business has been able to secure additional financing so we are confident that we will be able to reopen in the Spring. However, it is the prospects of smaller operators that causes significant concern. Indeed< since my appearance I have been approached by a number of such operators who are in severe financial distress. They both identified with the devastation I set out and implored me to continue to make representations on their behalf. Many such operators will have used their home as collateral for business loans and are now facing the prospect of heart wrenching decisions to avoid personal bankruptcy. These were strong and successful businesses and will be again with the right, targeted support.
Whilst numerous lockdowns have undoubtedly impacted gym businesses, the impact on communities and on the physical and mental wellbeing of the nation is even more devastating. Gyms are essential community assets both because of the health dividend they bestow on the nation and the fact they are a vital part of people’s daily health and wellbeing routine. It is perhaps most distressing that gyms are most necessary in serving the needier and disadvantaged parts of society. These are the people who might live in small or shared accommodation and do not have the luxury of a spacious garden or a park nearby. Gyms may once have been a ‘nice to have’ for the middle classes. They are now a must have and an essential service to a very broad cross section of the nation. Last year’s parliamentary petition on re-opening had over 600k signatures and ‘when will gyms re-open’ was one of the most popular Google searches of 2020.
I would like to share some excerpts of an email that was sent to me by a member called Helen, which I think perfectly demonstrates the severity of this crisis:
“I cannot express how important the gym is for my health, primarily my mental health. When they reopened at the end of July my parents both said they saw an instant change in my mood. Despite keeping fit at home, the gym is my community, the place I feel at home. Exercising alone at home just isn’t the same.”
“We must do all we can to keep community sport and gyms afloat during lockdown and make them key to the nations recovery. It is no secret that a large proportion of the population have become more inactive and gained weight during this period and, I believe, we suffered so bad in terms of mortality in the UK because our nation is not particularly healthy.”
We are very grateful for the measures that the Government has already put in place, particularly the furlough scheme, however the gym sector has not received the same level of targeted support as seen by other sectors such as hospitality and it has suffered just as much, if not more. Without targeted support, the gym industry will suffer a sort of economic long-Covid and many operators will go out of business, leaving fewer places for the public to exercise. Support must be targeted at those businesses most in need and be proportionate to the level of revenue loss over the last year. On behalf of the industry, I urge Government to step in to help gyms and fitness centres with targeted support. Specifically:
Given the role that gyms play in improving and maintaining the nation’s health, they must be recognised as an essential service. That is why we also have two asks of the Government when it is in a position to start reopening parts of business and society:
For PureGym, this latter point is particularly significant as we have formally pledged to make our gyms available to facilitate the Government’s vaccination roll-out across the UK. The vaccine roll out is the country’s number one priority and the faster it happens the sooner we can get on top of this terrible disease and start to return to normal life. That is why PureGym has directly offered its sites to the Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment and is liaising with the National Pharmacy Association to offer our support to all community pharmacies. Separately, we have partnered with Crest Pharmacy Group in Coventry to offer our local gym as a vaccination hub and are awaiting NHS approval for this site, which has the potential to deliver 5,000+ vaccinations per week.
As I stated at the beginning of this letter, at PureGym our purpose is to inspire a healthier nation. We are doing everything in our power to fulfil this by demonstrating the need for gyms to reopen as soon as it is safe to do so, and in the meantime to donating our facilities to do our bit to help rid this country of the COVID-19 pandemic as quickly as possible. Our ask to the Government is simple: please provide targeted and proportional support, particularly for those businesses with an ambition to protect the wellbeing of the nation.
As the Committee now considers how to feedback to the Government I hope the above is a helpful contribution. Thank you again for inviting me and do let me know if I can be of any further assistance.
UK Managing Director, PureGym