Saturday 31 March 2012

Why I'm so cross with a number

I’ve told you about our local gym before.   It’s small – really small – and not remotely fancy.  It doesn’t open all the time cos it’s run on a shoestring – and the membership fees are paltry (yet, even so, a lot of local people can’t afford it).  But, anyhow, that’s all moot because it’s shutting.  We’ve just been told that 1610 (formerly Somerset Leisure) is closing the gym from the end of April. 

People are upset, very upset.  And me?  I’m cross.  Okay, so in the scheme of things, it’s hardly earth-shattering.  A little rural gym used by 80 people?  As someone said on Twitter, you don’t really need a gym to get and keep fit – you can do it all by yourself, using minimal equipment or even just your own body weight.  And that is absolutely true.  But this little gym is far more than ten cardiovascular machines, eight weight machines,  two mats, two fitballs, a TRX and a set of free weights.  It’s a little community. 

I’ve been to a lot of gyms.  But I’ve never been to one whose members’ ages spanned eight decades.  And I’ve certainly never been to one with such a bloody brilliant attitude.  Or such lovely people.  Which is why I’m hacked off it’s shutting. For me, personally, it's not the end of the world - I use it because it's there and it's great but I do have other ways of keeping fit. However a lot of people really rely on it and they deserve better.

The great irony is that it’s shutting down in the year this country hosts the Olympic Games. Our politicians lecture us that we’re overweight and underfit; they urge us to take up sport, to exercise, to move our bodies.  They're right: exercise is vital – our bodies need to move in order to stay fit and healthy.  Sure, you could get out there and walk/run/cycle/swim.  But you need to be motivated to do that and, let’s be honest, for a lot of people motivation is the toughest part of the exercise equation.  Trisha, one of the instructors, is one of life’s natural motivators. I have watched people literally change shape under her mentoring.  They shed pounds, drop dress/trouser sizes, go from couch potatoes to people who run marathons. Seriously.  I’ve also seen confidence grow, shyness fade away, depression lift, anxiety calm down. People have healed themselves at that damn gym, damnit.

There are people in their 80s there,  going hell for leather on the bikes, pumping iron.  Often more gung-ho and up for it than those half their age.  It was attracting those tricky teens too – and by heck, surely anything that encourages young people to get off their backsides and move is a good thing?  Trisha devised fun, safe programmes for children too, getting them moving, while also gently introducing them to the concept of healthy eating. 

I've met people there who are fighting cancer and yet more who have kicked that bloody disease into touch and use exercise as part of their regime for staying fit and healthy.  And people who suffer other illnesses, not just physical but mental too.  And there, I think, lies the true benefit of the gym.  Because it’s not just about the equipment, the machines, the regimes. It’s about the psychological benefits of belonging, not remotely in a forced or formal or regimented way, but in the quiet magic of a little ad hoc casual conversation; a smile; an acceptance; a tacit nod of support.

Exmoor is a beautiful place but it can be very isolating living here.  People often don’t realise that rural communities can be deprived just as much as inner city ones and West Somerset is officially classed as deprived. 

The gym acts as an unofficial support group to many people.  Members often drop by just for a chat, even if they don’t have time for a workout.  As far as we can, we help one another – we don’t pry, we don’t push but I guess we provide a listening ear, share suggestions, introduce helpful people.  You can’t put a price on that.

Yet, despite all this, the gym is closing because… Well, presumably because of money.  Or lack thereof.  But this is what I really don’t understand.  Apparently we needed twenty more members to go into profit. Just twenty bodies. Yet 1610 (yeah, I know, isn’t it such a stupid name? Can a number even be a name??) barely advertised the facility and seemed uninterested in encouraging more people.  Not long ago I wrote a long email to them suggesting ideas for boosting membership (family memberships, links with GP surgery, better marketing, etc. etc.) – I never received a reply. 

I can understand that times are difficult, funds are tight.  But 1610 is a non-profit making leisure trust - it’s not big business.  Their website says: ‘Our aim is… to help people live fuller richer lives through an active body and active mind.’ Oh really?  You could have fooled me.   

What will we do?  Fight, of course.  Because that’s what you do for things that are worth it, isn’t it?  You don’t roll over and give up.   So we’re going to talk to the local council; we’re going to get media coverage of the issue; we’re going to see if there’s a way of taking the gym into our own hands and running it ourselves.  Something Dulverton always likes doing.  Cos it may only be 80 people but they are 80 people I know and care about.  And, with a bit of enthusiasm and inventiveness and passion there could be a lot lot more of them.  So, if there’s any way you can help, do get in touch. We now have a website:  Exmoor Gym - and also a Twitter account - @exmoorgym - follow us and support us if you can.
And if you have something similar in your neighbourhood, please support it.  In tough times it’s the little things that make a difference, that help us get by. Don’t let them falter and fall through neglect.
Update (10th April):  Following a meeting a working group has formed and has drafted a detailed business plan showing the gym is totally viable. Our town council and the church are fully on side and we have had support from a wide range of people - both gym users and others.
We would like to run the gym as a registered charity (accountable to locals via the Town Council).  We are confident we can run it professionally and within budget, ploughing any profit back into the facility. However, to date, 1610 are refusing to discuss the issue.  They would not go on local radio to talk about it. They have refused to meet with the group or the Town Council.  They want to keep the gym - but keep it closed. Now where is the sense in that?  Without wanting to be a conspiracy theorist, you have to wonder why?

So we have a  bit of a David and Goliath situation. Our MP, Ian Liddell-Grainger, isn't being exactly supportive so far. Which is also interesting because it's his party which has advocated the 'Big Society' and this, surely, is localism in action, rather than just rhetoric.

So right now we are seeking press coverage - because, frankly, the situation sucks.  So, if you have any contacts and could spread the word, we would be very grateful.  Actually, I suspect it might make a darn good story. 


Unknown said...

Good post, good arguement.

teresa said...

Thankyou,for putting what we feel into words. Remind me of the Number of Millions spent on the Olympics,and we get....oh yeah,sod all!
Sodding,bloody NUMBERS,can't they do there sums and see it is so much more than sodding angry!!!!!

Giles Bradshaw said...

There's one in south molton :)

Fennie said...

Best of luck, Jane. How much do they need to keep the Gym open? How much is 20 memberships?

Giles Bradshaw said...

@Fennie Is that a devon?

Cait O'Connor said...

Fight fight fight

My library was saved by such action by the community.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jane - it really is a people's gym and I am very pruod of it and all the members achievements, it is unique!
The cost of a months membership is £18 - we will fight, fight, fight

Exmoorjane said...

Thanks everyone. Membership is £18 a month, Fennie. So around £4K a year for 20 memberships.

Gordon Kuhn said...

The social aspects of a place like this are important. It is too bad that the gym is closing. Perhaps you will be able to work this out with the help of the surrounding community. I hope so. I just wanted to add that your article was well written.

Rob-bear said...

Here's a brilliant plan. You buy it. You take it over. You let Mrs. Motivator run it. You advertise for new member, do give-aways. Etc. You know what to do.

And if the bill-collectors come, set ASBO Jack on them. BTW, we haven't heard about Jack for ages; how is he? Still truly revolting?

Oh, and a radical new look to the blog. A bit shocking, with that red lettering, but even a Bear can get used to that. Well done m'lady.

Ashen said...

Just heard on the radio this morning that the government intends to introduce compulsory fitness activities for pensioners, withholding pension if they don't comply.

Exmoorjane said...

Thanks again. So the plan is to get the gym into local hands, run it ourselves...It would not take much at all to make it break even until we drum up more membership so we need a little interim funding or sponsorship. If any businesses fancy getting involved do get in touch.

@Rob - yup Asbo still revolting... what else did you think? :)
@Ashen - Really? Wow. Nanny government strikes again - but makes this all the more crazy, huh?

Trisha said...

Thnaks Jane, wonderfully writeen, captures the essence of the Exmoor gym. We have had some wonderful support during the last 48hours.
I am very proud of the Exmoor Gym - and it is going to get even better.

@completelyjane said...

Good luck with this, Jane. It's ridiculous that the gym should close when it is a vital part of your community. Just a thought.....are you able to get local sponsorship?

Exmoorjane said...

Thanks, Janie. Yes, that's part of the plan. It's such a valuable resource for the community and we could easily run it ourselves. Lot of very committed people here and many with a lifetime of experience in management so we won't be short of volunteers. In the end it will probably be a good thing - I'm all for local communities managing their own affairs. We're liaising with the parish council, the church (who are the landlords of the building) and the local sports am pretty hopeful of a good outcome. And if WE can do it, many other communities could do likewise... :)

Anonymous said...

We have a gym up here that is really good and definitely a place for the locals to hang out! I'm not a big gym fan myself but do like to swim so I joined last year. It's such a shame that people aren't being given an opportunity to better themselves even though we are all supposed to bow down to the Olympic organisers.

CJ x

Dump Him Love said...

another great post - as a couch potato even I was roused. Seriously Jane I really hope you succeed :)

Tee said...

:( That sucks, Jane. I totally understand the sense of community thing.

Chris Brown (Armstrongsfoot) on Twitter said...

Well, Trisha received a confirmation that the GYM is closing on 30th April 2012.E Mail was sent 2nd April 2012.Now the only way is forward.This will be much better run by Trisha and will be of much beeter benefit to the Community of Dulverton and Exmoor.
After all the research that trisha carried out for the current owners (research they decided not to follow) and 1610 Active's unswerving ability to ignore all suggestions and a really unbelievable ability to not support the gym in any way (except for coming to get pictures taken at the opening sep 2010) They hid behind the excuse of declining member numbers. Changed gym times without consultation, changed membership costs without consultation. From last July (most promenantly) there was an "Alternative Adgenda" to make the running of the gym so difficult it would fail.It was down to Trisha's Management past and proven track record background that they found it invariably difficult to simply shut the gym.
Even at the suggestions of the members of a small increase in monthly subscription to 1610 Active to cover the alledged shortfall, they chose to completely ignore it. Conclusion. 1610 Active never wanted to keep the gym as far back as January 2011 when clearly they did not want to seriously support the gym.

Chris (ArmstrongsFoot on Twitter) said...

I would like to point out that Trisha has the Gym totally at heart.
1610 Active continually made requests of her to carry out research, promote the gym etc.
Yet again and again although Trisha acted promptly and did the research thoroughly and presented it to them.
Not once did they ever act on the information.
The most profound of instances of Total lack of care was when flyers were promised to promote the gym.
After numerous requests to the gym mamager spanning some 4 months with the promise the order had been placed. (Trisha designed the flyers).In August after a senior manager appeared unannounced at an open day to promote the gym. He was to say the least forceful in his manner.When all calmed down he asked what he could do to help.
The flyers were mentioned, that this would be a start.
He went away armed with this that the flyers were needed and that he would "Accelerate the process of their production"
When he asked the relevant department if they could put the flyers to the front of the Queue, he got the the reply.
No record of the order. In fact they knew nothing about them....
In the words of Homer Simpson Dooooooooooh!
Ah well, thaat's all I am going to say.
Except .... To the blogger who said "There's one in South Molten".... So what ? The idea of the Exmoor Gym is so fitness facilities are accessable to the Rural Community of Dulverton and Exmoor.Public trasport services here on Exmoor are not like the south molton area. Wether from Dulverton to south molton, dulverton to simonsbath, dulverton to minehead,dulverton to tiverton.
Nice to know there's a gym in South Molton but no use to us..

Fennie said...

@Giles Bradshaw - no, not a Devon. It's a French cow - one of the Salers breed - that lives in the Cantal in central France where we go often on holiday. Salers are a general purpose animal producing good beef and milk (which is made into the famous Cantal and Salers cheeses). They are hardy and can live outdoors on the elevated pastures of the Auvergne plateau.

DD'sDiary said...

So sorry to hear your gym is closing, I know you love your zumba! Hope your campaign does the trick x

Jackie Buxton said...

I hear your pain, Jane. Apologies if I've missed someone say it already but how about a gym share, where membership pays part ownership? It would depend on how many people passionately don't want it to close and whether you could drum up new business but has to be worth a try? Good luck.

Alison Cross said...

Get local press involved as much as possible and give it all you've got!

Good on you all for just lying down and letting the facility be lost. I'm rooting for you!

Ali x

Anonymous said...

There are many issues like this countrywide; some are a lot more serious, but one thing always comes through: The total incompetency and corruptness of local government. The people are waking up and the crooks are panicing.

The Free British Army

Exmoorjane said...

Thanks again for all your comments. It may seem a small thing but to a lot of people here it's a bit of a lifeline.
Yes, we want to run it ourselves - and could do so very easily. Here in Dulverton we tend to do things for ourselves - we don't rely on government.
So far we've had a pretty stunning press campaign and are getting great support - not just from the press but also from the church, the town council, local businesses and individuals. We would have charitable status so we could offer reduced fees etc to those who can't afford it at present. Hence extending the facilities and reaching out to more people.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the government, whether Toy Labour or Tory are hell bent on destroying local communities, the family and the country in general. They are systematically driving this country into the ground so that we become an insignificant lump of rock sticking out of the sea that is governed by Europe. Hitler's dream is coming true and at the moment, Cameron is at the helm!

Everyone who is sick to death of being controlled in this way should write to the queen under article 61. She has to act on it!

Lawfull rebellion!
Wake up, people. Get of your arses and fight!

Free British Army

Anonymous said...

Can't understand why my last comment went straight to your email. If this one does let me know and I'll try another approach when posting.....Google eh? It's caught what Youtube has I bet!