Wednesday 25 April 2012

Who cares if the Exmoor Gym shuts?

On May 1st the Exmoor Gym in Dulverton will stand empty.  The treadmills won’t be running. Nobody will be using the weights. The staff will be out of work. Cobwebs will start to form over the equipment - for absolutely NO good reason.

With less than a week to go before the doors are locked, most of our members are devastated about the closure – some have even been in tears.

But really, it’s just a little local gym, right?  In the scheme of things, who cares? 
1610 Ltd (formerly Somerset Leisure) who manage the facility clearly don’t.  The town and district councillors have tried talking to them. The church has tried talking to them.  The Save Exmoor gym group has tried.  The press has tried. 

Our MP, Ian Liddell-Grainger, is now firmly on side and has called 1610’s attitude ‘outrageous.’  What nobody can understand is why the charity (yes, unbelievably they are a registered charity) is ignoring pleas to keep the much-loved gym open and why it is also refusing point blank to discuss handing over control to a committed group of people who have the will and expertise to run it.  1610, it seems, continue to put profit above community.

But the people of Exmoor care. They care a lot.  They care because they are using the gym for rehab, for getting fit, for staying healthy, for keeping in touch, for feeling part of something, however small.  They are real people - not just statistics.

Rob, Jane and Charlie Day. Photo (c) Dawn-Marie Williams 
Let me introduce you to the Day family - Rob, Jane and Charlie.  Rob is 42 and he is fighting cancer. He is the most incredibly upbeat, positive guy you could meet - and he needs the gym to help keep him fit while he undergoes treatment for that bastard disease.  It's not exactly a bed of roses for Jane and Charlie either - but the gym and the support of the people there help - a little. 

They're not the only real people who're suffering here.  Let me introduce you to a few more people who care... A few more people whom 1610 is ignoring. Real people, not statistics. 

Alex Kelly cares:  “I am eleven years old and live in Winsford.  I go to the gym after school with my friends. The gym is very important to me and I think that this is really unfair.”

Pam Gascoyne cares: I am 68 and have never had a regular exercise programme before joining the gym. I am starting to feel great and wish I'd started sooner. I cannot understand this 'closure'. My next nearest gym facility is in Tiverton a long ride some 25 miles over the moor.”

Jan Potts cares:  “I have recently undergone physio rehabilitation therapy. Having just reached the stage where I can attend the gym I return to find that 1610 do not recognise the value of the facility or its exceptionally talented staff and want to close it down.”

Jackie Kelly cares:  “The gym has made a huge difference not only to myself, but also my family. The positive effects on our health, emotional and physical, have been tremendous. 1610 clearly aren't committed to the health or well being of this rural community.” 

Teresa Williams cares: “I want to rejoin in May, so that I can become fitter and stronger, physically and mentally. But 1610 have decided to close. How much more do we need to protest, plead, shout before 1610 take notice?” 

Karen Jarmarkier cares:  “I joined the Exmoor Gym last November following a knee injury. At the time I was in desperate need of exercise and a serious mental boosting. The positive effects on my mental health, eating habits and knee stability have been immense. Living in such a rural community, it is very easy to drift into isolation and hide away. I am so, so disappointed. So sad.”

But we will continue fighting.  And, if 1610 refuse to keep the gym open, we will just have to open our own, won't we?  :-) 


Sally Shalam said...

Atta girl! Who owns the building?

Tee said...

I think it right sucks what's happened here. It clearly doesn't matter to the people running it. But the town is going to be affected. If I had money, I'd keep it open for you folks. Unfortunately, I have a rubber band and a paperclip, neither will help you. ♥

Expat mum said...

I was just going to say - if there's such a demand for a gym, surely someone will come along and open another one. 1610 must be mad to walk away from such demand, so there's obviously something else going on there.

Exmoorjane said...

@Sally - the building is owned by a trust which is also pretty appalled at what has happened.

@Tee - Nah, they don't give a shit. But we'll win this - one way or another. Lot of people in this town who like a fight. And we've got one helluva team on this - next step will be getting in the TV cameras. :D

Hey, I have a rubberband and a USB stick - shall we start a band? xx

Exmoorjane said...

@Expat mum - yup, there is clearly a hidden agenda. We have experts investigating on quite a few fronts.

It's all about accountability and governance...a bigger story here actually than just one small gym.

And yes, we will open our own. Already in negotiations on this. Obviously would make life easier if they would just hand over the premises and equipment but if not, so be it. And there is not room for two gyms in a place this size. :)
I think 1610 must relish the negative publicity! :D

Fennie said...

There is a short story here waiting to be written about a group of people who - by virtue of their addiction to physical activity - cannot organise a 'sit-in' but have to organise something else more active. Physically incapable of sitting still, they run and lift and press and squat in relays and refuse to budge, when the 1610 bailiffs come knocking. When the power is turned off someone brings in a generators (or maybe couple the treadmills to a dynamo) and invitations are sent out to all sorts of famous people to come and exercise in the Exmoor gym. Soon athletes are competing to see who can do the most bench presses in the least time and the organising committee will find they have to send to the Mint at Llantrisant (not far as the crow flies) for medals in gold (oh, all right then, yellow metal) and silver and bronze to reward their efforts. Headlines in the leeway-allowed popular prints will read 'Exmoor Stages Its Own Olympics' or perhaps 'Scullers from China and the USA Compete for Gold on Exmoor's Rowing Machines.' Meanwhile Private Eye will run all sorts of sixteen and tenpenny stories about the charity company and the jobsworths who run it.

But better than writing a story - why don't you do it?

Kellie Kamryn said...

That's too bad they're closing :( I hope you can get someone to do something about it. It's the small things that mean so much to communities!

Ashen said...

Charities are sometimes formed to avoid paying tax on asset sales or income. But they have obligations towards their mission statement and the community they're meant to serve. I bet you're already looking into irregularities.
I feel for your group, having my own woe story of a charity overruling the needs of a sizeable and long-standing community.

Zoë said...

I wonder if the Charities Commission can help you with this at all? Are they an American Charity?

Frith said...

I would love to hear how this continues. Surely there's a way to take it over as a co-op of some sort? Member-owned etc? They probably don't want to haul all the gear away and put it in storage somewhere else. You have a fight on your hands but you sound like a lot of fighters. Don't forget FaceBook - crowd-sourcing funds for stuff like this etc. Good luck. Love your blog, your attitude, and your little community.

Exmoorjane said...

@Fennie - we had thought of staging a run/row/cycle in... :) But we have a better idea now... we're taking over the church!

@Kellie - thanks. We're doing it for ourselves - only way really. :)

@Ashen - yup, we are looking into everything - MP and county council are very supportive with research too so hope,for their sake, 1610 have been totally above board in their dealings. :) If sharing your own story might help in any way, please do - happy to direct people to it. Small communities need to support one another against the fat cats.

@Zoe - they're a UK charity and company. Originally funded by public money, now private. Is interesting set up really.

@Frith - they say they will look into our viability and may open again in the autumn. In reality we all know that won't happen. We have offered to release them from the lease as they state economics are the reason but they would rather lock the place up and leave the equipment there to gather dust. Why? Search me. But yes, we will go ahead and start our own facility - we've got a venue and instructors and just finalising plans. Is insane situation but the community wants this facility so we will make sure it gets it. :) Huge thanks for your support.

Shelia said...

If all these people that are so 'outraged' actually got off their ass and joined the gym in the first place the company wouldn't have had to pull out! It's easy to be outraged after the decision has been made!

Exmoorjane said...

Hi Shelia. Thanks for reading and commenting. Sadly it's not that simple. The gym was never properly marketed or advertised - most people didn't even know it was there. We persistently asked 1610 to market it properly to encourage more members but they ignored requests. They also refused to consider incentive schemes to attract more members. We are a small rural community in a deprived area - money is tight. Families couldn't afford to buy separate memberships - particularly when children or teens would only be able to use the facility during holidays.
I understand where you're coming from and agree that often people only realise what they're missing when it is threatened but in this case we really did try our darndest - just met with firmly closed ears.

Sandie said...

Hopefully your council members are aware how much public sector money is around (particularly this year)for sporting activities, especially where these involve kids/teens. There are also specific funds for rural areas... I'm out of touch with the regeneration field, so can't recall who your local development organisation might be, but the council ought to have that info along with access to the relevant funding databases.

There have been huge cuts in public sector spending this year but the one area which has suffered least is sport (primarily because of the Olympics).

The BIG Lottery is investing heavily in these things just now, also Sport England - both of these organisations are worth checking out for funding and support.

Good luck!