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‘Virtual is dead’ - Town’s fitness instructors ‘deflated’ but looking to bounce back

PUBLISHED: 14:04 30 June 2020 | UPDATED: 15:34 30 June 2020

Richard Taylor owner of Tiger Fitness in Thetford. Photo: Richard Taylor

Richard Taylor owner of Tiger Fitness in Thetford. Photo: Richard Taylor

Richard Taylor

As the government announced plans for pubs and restaurants to re-open from July 4, many in the leisure industry were left feeling in limbo. EMILY THOMSON caught up with three Thetford fitness instructors as they wait to get back in the gym.

Richard Taylor, owner of Tiger Fitness, has started doing outdoor sessions for his members. Photo: Richard TaylorRichard Taylor, owner of Tiger Fitness, has started doing outdoor sessions for his members. Photo: Richard Taylor

Despite many of us looking forward to that first pint in a beer garden this weekend, for those who are desperate to get back in the gym, the wait will be a little longer.

At the start of lockdown Richard Taylor, owner of Tiger Fitness, at the Charles Burrell Centre, quickly adapted his business by moving it online and offering free workouts for members.

But four months later, Mr Taylor has said “virtual is dead” and the motivation for online workouts seems to have dwindled.

Now he is keen to get his business back up and running in-person.

Richard Taylor, owner of Tiger Fitness, has started doing outdoor sessions for his members. Photo: Richard TaylorRichard Taylor, owner of Tiger Fitness, has started doing outdoor sessions for his members. Photo: Richard Taylor

Mr Taylor said: “When it came out last Tuesday, I felt deflated. I thought we were going to be given the green light for July 4 which was exciting but also a bit daunting.

“My gym is only a small area and if I was to maintain social distancing, I could probably only get in five people at a time.

“So how would I adapt, get people in and still make money? That is what it is all down to.

“I could still do it but I would be running at a loss so it makes you think, is it worth it? And a lot of businesses are like that.

Michelle Jermy, owner of The Wellness Clinic. Picture: Lauren De Boise.Michelle Jermy, owner of The Wellness Clinic. Picture: Lauren De Boise.

“Virtual classes were a novelty at the start of lockdown but you don’t get value for money on a live class, it’s a watered down experience - virtual is dead.

“So now I have said, I can do outdoor sessions, live sessions or PT sessions, and everyone is opting for outdoors.”

Despite being unable to open from July 4, Mr Taylor thinks a date might be released by mid-July or the beginning of August.

He added: “In my opinion I think every business should be under review, with their own risk assessment, and it should have gone to the local council to decide.

Michelle Jermy, owner of The Wellness Clinic, will carry on teaching her members online from her studio. Photo: Michelle JermyMichelle Jermy, owner of The Wellness Clinic, will carry on teaching her members online from her studio. Photo: Michelle Jermy

“I do understand gyms can actually be a bad place to be in terms of bacteria unless you keep on top of it, which is hard if you have a big facility.

“But I just think for a smaller business like myself, it’s so much easier to manage. We could be open right now.”

MORE: ‘We have been hit the hardest’: Gym owner calls for more support for smaller businesses during pandemic

Another Thetford fitness instructor, Michelle Jermy, owner of The Wellness Clinic, also at the Charles Burrell Centre, has said her business has grown during lockdown and has made the decision to stay online – even if a date to reopen is released.

Ms Jermy, who is an exercise specialist for those with medical conditions, back problems or mobility issues, has now made over 100 videos online and says her clients are loving it.

Michelle Jermy, owner of The Wellness Clinic, will carry on teaching her members online from her studio. Photo: Michelle JermyMichelle Jermy, owner of The Wellness Clinic, will carry on teaching her members online from her studio. Photo: Michelle Jermy

She said: “Three months ago, it was more a case of wanting to transfer my sessions over to online so I could keep my members moving over lockdown and we set up a campaign for older adults and those at high risk.

“I had to throw myself in to learning the technology and invest in equipment because we had to do whatever we could to look after our members and save the business.

“It’s just been a case of trial and error but the feedback has been amazing.

“Going online pushed me to rethink my business model and actually move forward - which I think I have.”

Ashley Smith, owner of the Ashley Dance Company, has been teaching her students virtually during lockdown. Photo: Ashley SmithAshley Smith, owner of the Ashley Dance Company, has been teaching her students virtually during lockdown. Photo: Ashley Smith

MORE: Fitness instructor launches campaign to support adults with disabilities during pandemic

Ashley Smith, owner of the Ashley Dance Company, based at the Abbey Neighbourhood Centre, also took her business online and has carried on teaching and posting free videos to keep kids moving throughout lockdown.

She said she was “gutted” to find out that she was among the businesses unable to open from July 4.

But with the support of Thetford Town Football club, Ms Smith has started teaching classes socially distanced outside and said it was amazing to see her students again.

She said: “I was pretty upset when I found out we couldn’t reopen the studio, but you just have to keep powering on.

Ashley Smith, owner of the Ashley Dance Company, has been teaching her students virtually during lockdown. Photo: Ashley SmithAshley Smith, owner of the Ashley Dance Company, has been teaching her students virtually during lockdown. Photo: Ashley Smith

“Online has been amazing but I feel we need to get that human connection back and start physically seeing people again.

“My wellbeing and mental health has been affected by this so God knows how it has affected the kids.

“I have felt anxious about the future but as soon as I see them, I know we will be fine.

“The minute we get the go ahead we will hit the ground running and do as much as we can keeping with the guidelines.”

Ashley Smith, owner of the Ashley Dance Company, has started teaching her students outside at Thetford Town Football Club. Photo: Ashley SmithAshley Smith, owner of the Ashley Dance Company, has started teaching her students outside at Thetford Town Football Club. Photo: Ashley Smith

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