December 4, 2020

Coronavirus: Gym-owning Manningtree couple’s relief at reopening plan

Jack and Connie Cardy Image copyright Jack Cardy
Image caption Jack and Connie Cardy have been offering Facebook sessions and personalised plans for members while the gym has been closed

Businesses have been gradually emerging from lockdown over the past month but gyms had been among a select few left behind. With confirmation that they can reopen from 25 July, BBC News went to meet one gym-owning couple who cannot wait to get going.

“We feel great. We’ve been waiting for this for the last few months.”

Jack Cardy was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief as the latest lockdown-loosening measure was announced by the government.

“It is so nice to have a date for which we can prepare,” he said. “It’s not as soon as I thought, but we can get communication out and welcome people back.”

For Jack and his wife Connie, the lockdown could not have come at a worse time. The pair only bought Live Fit gym in Manningtree, Essex, last year.

A former personal trainer, 28, who started in the industry aged 16, Mr Cardy gave up a business managing other personal trainers so he could buy the gym.

Mrs Cardy, 29, who worked at another gym, also quit her job and they put everything they had into Live Fit.

As if that was not enough to juggle, the couple’s daughter Ruby-Rae was just one at the time.

“It was a huge challenge,” Mr Cardy said. “But we like to take on more than we can chew.”

Image copyright Jack Cardy
Image caption Jack and Connie Cardy quit their jobs to open the business last year

Having inherited 50 members, they had grand plans to increase that number to 500 by Christmas 2020. By March this year, they had already hit that target.

“We had an incredible eight months where we grew substantially past our hopes and goals,” Mr Cardy said.

Then Covid-19 hit.

Image copyright Jack Cardy
Image caption Connie and Jack Cardy increased membership at Live Fit gym from 50 to 500 people in eight months before the lockdown started

Gyms were told to close on 20 March as part of tougher measures to halt the spread of the virus.

And when Prime Minister Boris Johnson allowed pubs, restaurants and hotels to reopen on 4 July, gyms were conspicuous by their absence.

Some experts said gyms could encourage the virus to spread in confined spaces with shared equipment.

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It was a decision that left Mr Cardy “surprised, frustrated, angry”. Allowing pubs to open and not gyms had left him scratching his head.

“From a mental health perspective, drinking can make things worse, while gyms make it better.

“We had got our hopes up. We even sent an email to members saying we hope tonight will be the night.”

Britain’s gym industry

Image copyright neptunestocks
  • There are more than 7,000 gyms in the UK
  • Gyms and leisure centres employ about 189,000 people across the country
  • The gym industry is worth around £8bn a year

Although disappointed, they decided to carry on making improvements in the the gym while they waited for the green light to open.

They had already offered members a freeze on membership – but they had plenty of ideas to keep things going during lockdown.

Facebook fitness sessions were set up and instructors put together plans to allow people to exercise at home.

When people were allowed to train in small numbers outside, the gym started group sessions.

It meant while “the majority took that freeze,” many continued to pay – something Mr Cody calls a “godsend”.

The gym has not sat idle either. Builders carried out renovations and new plans were put in place, including the introduction of a barbers business.

Image copyright Jack Cardy
Image caption Nate Barbers have moved into the gym to widen its service – both while it has been closed and in the future

Perhaps the most time has been spent making sure everything is in place for a safe reopening.

Equipment has been spaced out so social distancing can be adhered to, while the number of people allowed to attend fitness classes has been limited.

Hand sanitiser areas will be available throughout the gym, and while changing rooms will be open to limited numbers at a time, showers will not be.

“There will be a lot of trial and error,” Mr Cardy said, “but we are doing everything to to make sure people are safe.

“It’s been a long three or four months. This will take us a step or two backwards, but you have to be positive.

“To get back and interact with members again is going to be great feeling.”