The restart of indoor exercise classes and organised sport is a “vital” step forward for millions of people, the sector says.
In England, indoor group exercise and indoor organised sport are now safe to reopen under the latest phase of the road map, with providers following Government-approved safety guidelines on sanitation, ventilation and social distancing to ensure participants can return safely and confidently.
Alongside group activities, saunas and steam rooms within spas and indoor leisure facilities and children’s play areas can also reopen.
In Wales, group activities reopened on May 3, restricted to 15 people per class, but will be extended to 30 people from May 17.
In Northern Ireland, operators have been given an indicative date of May 24 for indoor group exercise and organised sport to reopen.
Industry association ukactive said the reopening marked a major milestone for gyms, leisure centres, pools and boutique studios and for the millions of people who use fitness classes to support their physical and mental wellbeing.
Group exercise also played an important role in supporting older adults requiring strength classes to help prevent falls, cancer patients needing rehabilitation services and those using weight management programmes.
A recent survey by Sport England found that more than seven million people in England were regularly using fitness classes before the pandemic. Women made up some 76% of participants of group exercise classes.
During the pandemic, financial pressures had resulted in the loss of around 400 gyms, pools and leisure facilities across the UK, with thousands more remaining under threat, ukactive said.
In some cases, facilities would be unable to reopen due to operational restrictions such as reduced capacity, which made them financial unviable in the short term.
On Thursday, ukactive chairwoman Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging the Government to extend the National Leisure Recovery Fund for public operators, and introduce VAT relief for the private sector in line with other sectors.
Ukactive chief executive Huw Edwards said: “Group exercise classes and indoor sports are loved by millions of people across the UK so it’s great to see them start to return.
“Through these popular community activities, our members have become the engine room of physical activity in our nations, making their reopening a vital moment for our physical and mental recovery.
“However, our sector still needs support and we will continue to fight hard for the financial and regulatory help which is urgently required so that as many facilities as possible are able to survive and recover fully.
“Our members have shown tremendous courage and resilience in the harshest of environments, having to make tough operational decisions while facing no income during this period of lockdown. It’s time to support these vital facilities to play their fullest role in our nation’s health and wellbeing.”
PureGym, which opened 10 new facilities in England last month alongside the reopening of its 230 sites, said: “We are very excited to restart our group fitness classes which we know are hugely popular with our members who have been without this for many months.
“Last month in our first week of re-opening in England we saw one million workouts and we expect to see around 165,000 members participating in 11,000 classes in England, Wales and Scotland this week.
“Our booking systems show that we have had more than 76,000 class bookings for the week commencing May 17 which proves how excited members are to get back into classes.”
Sandy Macaskill, co-founder of Barry’s Bootcamp, said instructors and clients were all “hugely excited” to be back, “tinged with frustration as to why we haven’t been able to start before now”.
But he said clients would experience the “same old magic” with a “few tweaks”, such as screens between treadmills, reduced capacity in classes and masks until they reach their assigned spot.
Mr Macaskill said: “In terms of preparation, we were doing almost all of this anyway, which is part of our frustration at having to stay closed for so long.”