Anytime Fitness UK Letter to Boris Johnson

The Prime Minister
Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP
10 Downing Street
London, SW1A 0AA

Date: 06 August 2020

Dear Prime Minister,

Your government’s ongoing legislation and messaging around the leisure and fitness industry is continuing to damage the health of the UK population amidst a global health pandemic.

The mixed messages are alarming; in the same week that you announced your new obesity strategy, you’re allowing local authorities to force gyms to shut down again. Furthermore, you’re allowing the hospitality sector to remain open and incentivise unhealthy eating with the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. You have been a huge advocate for exercise in previous weeks and it was additionally disappointing to see that in your ‘Tackling Obesity: Empowering Adults and Children to Live Healthier Lives’ policy paper, the word ‘exercise’ does not feature.

We urge you to reconsider this dangerous approach and seek advice from your own medical professionals, health club operators, independent business owners, UKActive and Sport England and use the vast body of evidence available to ensure the fitness industry stays open for business. As you know, the risk of large-scale indefinite closures has been well documented and a second closure, combined with more lost income and no further funding support, will all but seal the fate of some of these facilities.

Our gyms in England have now been open for over a week and we have already proven that we can effectively adhere to social distancing measures. We have worked tirelessly throughout lockdown with both UKActive and our clubs to ensure they were safe for our members’ return and unlike the hospitality industry on its opening weekend, aren’t seeing front-page splashes of social distancing rules being flaunted and ignored.

The science from around the world speaks for itself; gyms are not facilitating the spread of COVID-19. Research by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) in the USA, the country worst affected by the virus, showed that across 1,003 gyms and 8.9 million visits to those gyms, there was a 0.0004% occurrence rate of COVID-19. I’m sure you agree, these figures are remarkably low, especially when you consider how prolific the virus is in the USA.

Compare that to the hospitality industry in the UK where already we have already seen case spikes in Stone and Aberdeen which can be directly linked to pubs in those localities.

The figures are out there for all to see; our nation’s weight is rising and our activity levels are falling during lockdown. A recent King’s College London and Ipsos MORI survey reported 48% of respondents said that they’ve put on weight during lockdown while a separate Sport England survey found that 52% of people feel guilty for not matching their levels of physical activity pre-lockdown. These figures are alarming and further shows that during this time, we cannot take away fitness facilities which can improve both the physical and mental health of our nation.

We’ve had Members of Parliament visit our gyms who have been universally impressed by the cleanliness and safety measures introduced; has there been any dialogue with MPs who have been visiting businesses in their constituencies? We underwent the most thorough compliance process the business has ever seen to ensure our clubs adhered to the sound framework from ukactive which was produced in conjunction with both virologists and scientists. More importantly, we have a track and trace system whereby people cannot enter any of our facilities without a digital date and time stamp, along with being able to manage capacity extremely effectively and without the need for human intervention.

As a franchised business, all of our clubs are independently owned and our main focus is to serve our local communities and keep them safe, while providing employment opportunities. These gyms are our franchisees’ livelihoods and with arrears mounting up and government loans to be paid back, further enforced closures will simply mean that they don’t open their doors again; their businesses are at stake.

As well as keeping gyms open, they need access to similar financial support that the hospitality industry has enjoyed. The landlord moratorium as part of the 2020 Coronavirus Act is lifted on 30 September as well as the end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme a month later, both of which will heavily impact our businesses. They need protection from landlords, a reduction in VAT and your support in incentivising people into gyms to exercise. Work Out to Help Out needs to become the new Eat Out to Help Out, particularly in the colder winter months where the virus could be more deadly and exercising outdoors becomes more difficult.

As you know in the current climate, our physical health is the best available vaccine for COVID-19. Data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that obesity increases the chances of hospitalisation with COVID-19 six-fold. The Better Health campaign is a reaction to this so why are we still closing fitness facilities when they can play an integral part in increasing both our resilience and respiratory strength? Two absolutely integral functions which can help improve our nation’s health and subsequent resistance to COVID-19.

To quote your own advisor; Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty – “There is no situation, there is no age and no condition where exercise is not a good thing”.

Please do the right thing and allow our gyms and the wider fitness sector to remain open. Consider the damage that is being done by not actively supporting the gyms to help you achieve your obesity objectives and not incentivising the nation to exercise. You have members of your SAGE committee stating that schools should be allowed to open while hospitality and gyms should be shut, risking billions of pounds going back into the Treasury and also in excess of four million jobs being put at risk. There is so much confusion at the moment and there urgently needs to be some clarity.

Lives are quite literally at stake and as the science proves, we’re here to provide safe, spacious and welcoming facilities which can improve the nation’s health and help them be prepared to fight this deadly virus, now and in the future.

Yours sincerely,

Neil Randall
CEO, Anytime Fitness UK