Gym owner whose energy bills are set to treble says she fears for her survival

Emily Wilkinson, who owns an independent gym with husband Alex, said they will have to
Emily Wilkinson, who owns an independent gym with husband Alex, said they will have to "stop everything" to ensure their businesses survives the winter. (Emily Wilkinson)

A small business owner has told how she and her husband will 'stop everything' this winter to ensure they survive the winter amid the ongoing energy crisis.

Emily Wilkinson, who runs independent gym AW Muscle & Fitness in Bollington, Cheshire with husband Alex, said their business bills had already risen from £500 to £1,000 a month last September, and they now race rises of a further £500 a month.

On top of that, rises to household bills following the energy price cap hike means the couple face having to curb any personal spending to make sure their business survives.

In a stark warning to the government, Wilkinson said the energy crisis could spell "the end of small and local businesses".

Emily Wilkinson called on the government to 'do something' to help small businesses. (Emily Wilkinson)
Emily Wilkinson called on the government to 'do something' to help small businesses. (Emily Wilkinson)

She told Yahoo News UK: "During COVID we had nine months of closures. Then, when we were open, there were restrictions. So in terms of income we lost members during that time. When we reopened we couldn't offer things like classes so people changed to lower-tiered memberships and our income suffered.

"It's built back up now, but we're paying more out in all sorts of ways. There's bounceback loan repayments, rises in costs for everything from cleaning to staffing to import duty, tax and freight costs when we buy new kit or parts to maintain our kit.

"Fuel costs was a big one. When fuel costs went up, all our commuters who travelled to our area for work stopped going into their offices and therefore cancelled their gym memberships."

On top of that, the approval of two budget gyms by the local council has also impacted their new business, she said.

"Our outgoings are probably about 30% higher than they used to be and that's not including the energy price increase we're about to have.

"Our bills went from just under £500 to around £1,000 per month last September, and are expected to go up again to £1,500 this September. So essentially that's an employee's wage.

"At the moment we're doing everything to not increase membership prices - instead focusing on increasing 'extras' like PT & nutrition. I expect next year we will have to increase memberships and that’s where we risk losing members - so our future will depend on that.

"Our survival will depend on how much disposable income households have after the price increase in October. It’s a waiting game."

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Wilkinson said their business and household are essentially 'interlinked' financially, meaning any increase to their personal bills meant they would have to take more money out of the business.

"We won't lose our house, but we have no extra spending. No going out for meals, nothing like that. We'll stop everything because what we don't want to do is take too much away from the business. So our personal life will suffer so that the business doesn't suffer."

Cutting back on spending, both for the business and personally, will also have a knock-on effect in the local community, Wilkinson said, with fellow small businesses also losing out.

"Whereas maybe every couple of weeks we might go out for a meal somewhere local, they would get our business, but now they won't.

"As much as possible we use local suppliers for the business too, but they're all people who won't be getting our business unless we absolutely have to because we won't be spending any more than we have to."

She called on the government to "do something about it" and said she was concerned the lack of any price cap for small businesses meant energy companies would pass increased costs on to businesses.

"The Tories state in their 2019 manifesto that small businesses are the backbone of this country. Well, the body can't survive without the backbone yet they're doing everything that they can to push small businesses out. They're essentially going against everything they stand for which is pretty disgusting.

"They need to take action - it's not about businesses borrowing money, businesses shouldn't need to borrow money or take money in grants. They should be protected from spending it in the first place.

"We're already seeing a knock-on effect in our area. One restaurant's bills have gone up from £15,000 a year to £65,000 and they've already said they're closing. They have a £20,000 contract with a local butcher so that butcher will now shut as well because it's their biggest yearly contract. Then you look at who's supplying the butcher - it's going to directly impact the farmer.

"It's a downward spiral and if they don't do something about it this is the end of small and local businesses."