As part of the nationwide lockdown measures, the Government has instructed that all gyms should close; but this time around, I’m determined to keep my gym open. I’m the founder of The Fore in Coal Drops Yard, a gym that not only functions as a place for people to physically exercise, but also offers community initiatives, alternative therapies, social activities and even a co-working space. It’s a place where people can access mental, social and physical wellness across the board. These are the only things that can help a country in the midst of a pandemic; a time when it’s vital that people retain their physical and mental health, and do all they can to stay connected.
We know from research released by Sport England that the nation’s activity levels were severely affected by the first lockdown, with women being the worst off. There’s already a gender gap in physical activity participation, which will only get worse this time around. I’m also worried a second lockdown could increase inequalities amongst BAME groups. Keeping the nation physically and mentally fit is the only way to navigate this pandemic and alleviate the pressure on the NHS, both now, and in the future.
I’m planning to offer nearly all of our services throughout this lockdown. I’m going to continue the group workout classes with six people in them, which will all be socially-distanced. We have lots of clients who work out together as siblings, so we will try and orchestrate these classes into social bubbles as best as we can. Our gym is entirely covid compliant; we have 6000 square foot space, with air conditioning that does not recycle air, pumping only fresh air through a UV filtered system at twice the government’s recommended levels. On the therapies front, we will continue offering alternative therapies, breathwork and meditation classes, and also keep our co-working space open. We have cork desks which are anti-bacterial, and we give the space a deep clean throughout the day, and every night,
Of course, I’m expecting to be contacted by the Government, but I am convinced this is the right thing to do. I have a core team here who are not going to take any form of liability. I’ve made it clear that it’s entirely my decision, and it will be my head on the line if things go wrong. Most likely, they will try and close us down but I will fight for my gym to stay open for as long as I can. I’ve found an exemption in the lockdown restrictions which states that you can gather indoors if it enables one person within that group to avoid injury, illness or risk of harm. Quite frankly, we tick every box there, because it is only through remaining physically active that we can hope to avoid illness and avoid risk of harm to ourselves through poor mental health.
In the first lockdown, one of our clients took her own life and it really affected our whole team. It’s utterly heartbreaking to see people reach that level of hopelessness, so that’s partly what is driving my decision this time around. We saw many of our clients coming out of the last lockdown feeling really low. They’re bodies had changed, they had lost all sense of their routine and they didn’t have the same endorphin levels. I’m determined not to see that happen again.
Later on today, we’re going to send a letter to our clients telling them we’re going to remain open and I think most of them will support our decision. We have a very strong community here. That being said, I don’t have any judgement to other gym owners who are choosing to shut their doors; in this climate, everyone needs to do what they feel is best.
The only way we can battle covid is by maintaining our own personal health – and in the depths of winter, we can’t expect outdoor fitness to be a solution. Ultimately, I believe that lockdowns don’t work, because as soon as we come out of them we see a surge in cases. In the meantime, cancer diagnoses are being missed, our physical health is getting worse and mental health has gone to the bottom of the list.
This isn’t a business decision – I’m doubtful we will have anywhere near enough footfall to make it work revenue wise. Rather, it’s about the health of my community. I can’t sit back and be party to the Government’s decision when my entire business has been founded on making health accessible to everyone. By shutting my gym, I would be going against all of my brand’s values, and everything that I believe.
Hannah Lanel is the founder of the The Fore Fitness and Wellness Studio in Kings Cross, London
As told to Alice Hall