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“Catch-22” for gym owner who wants to help members’ mental fitness

A gym owner is calling on the Welsh Government to allow gyms to reopen now to protect people’s mental health.

Gyms have spent most of the last year with their doors closed. Most recently, they closed in late-December and so far no date has been set for them to re-open. 

Stephen Cull owns a gym in Caerphilly and says he’s finding it increasingly difficult to justify keeping his gym closed while his members’ mental health suffers.

“People are struggling mentally now. I’ve had people crying down the phone. I’m not talking about little boys, I’m talking about big, strong guys who can’t train. They rely on training for their sanity,” he said.

“It’s a catch-22. I feel obliged by my members to do something about it but then on the other hand if I do I’m in trouble with the police and government etc so what can you do?”

He thinks gyms should be considered an essential service which would allow him to stay open: “In my opinion, yes, they should be deemed an essential service. I know that because I have been speaking to members who are really really struggling, some on the brink of suicide.”

No Campaign, No Gain

Leigh-Catherine Salway recently founded the “No Campaign, No Gain” campaign to pressure the Welsh Government to class gyms, leisure centres, pools, health clubs and sporting clubs as essential businesses.

“It’s nonsensical to close places that improve your health when we’re in a health pandemic,” she argued. 

“Closing down places where people maintain fitness and health or become fitter and healthier is not looking after the best interest of a nation whatsoever.”

She believes exercising outside or at home “is not the same as that expert tuition, great equipment, or getting a nice positive vibe from a smile from somebody else in the gym and feeling like you’re a part of a great positive movement. [Gyms] bring people together.”

A Delicate Situation

However, Dai Watkins who owns a gym in Llandyfri, is more uncertain about a full and immediate opening.  He acknowledges the suffering closures are causing and says he would like to, and could feasibly open his gym to a small number of people. But he says the situation is not that simple.

“It’s such a delicate situation. There are still areas where funerals are happening. There are people dying and people who have lost loved ones and it’s such a delicate and precarious situation,” he said.

“It almost comes across as selfish by a certain sector of society who want to open gyms when hospital beds are full, doctors and nurses are stretched to the limit and people are dying of the virus.”

Welsh Government Response

In a press conference on Monday, 1 February, the Welsh Government said gyms and leisure centres would be among the first things considered when easing lockdown restrictions. But, it has not given a timeframe of when this might be.

A report by the Welsh Government says there is a “high potential for superspreading events within
indoor exercise facilities, contamination of surfaces and equipment, peripheral activity and workplace risks, and the impacts from reduced access to facilities.”

It said case rates must drop before re-opening.

Another report by the Welsh Government says gyms should be able to open when Wales enters Alert Level 3. 

Any change to the current restrictions will not be decided until 18 February when the next lockdown review is expected.