Photo Credit: Body Tech Fitness https://www.facebook.com/BodyTechWirral/
On October 14, Nick Whitcombe, owner of Body Tech Fitness in Wirral, England, posted a video to his Instagram page showing five police officers inside his gym. This was the second time police had entered his gym floor that day, first with a warning, then a fine.
One big thing: Whitcombe was at the helm of a Liverpool gym rebellion; one that would soon prove victorious.
Two days before the police showed up at Body Tech’s door, Prime Minister Boris Johnson rolled out a three-tier coronavirus plan in response to the rising number of cases. The new regulations placed different areas of England into one of the three, the third being the most strict tier. Under the original tier three regulations, gyms were not permitted to operate.
- Whitcombe refused to close, citing in an Instagram post that, “We [Body Tech] are not staying open for financial gain but more for our members mental and physical well-being. Gyms should be supported in fighting against COVID, obesity, mental health and many other conditions and diseases.”
- He backed this up with numbers from ukactive, a nonprofit working to get the nation more active. According to the organization, there were 22 million gym visits from the beginning of July to September, with only .34 COVID cases per 100,000 visits.
- Whitcombe pointed out that an unpublished study named restaurants responsible for 9.6% of the country’s cases, yet they were allowed to remain open.
Body Tech’s refusal to close was supported by over 50 other city gyms, with dozens, including CrossFit Sempiternal in Bidston (Bidston, Wirral, and Liverpool are all a part of the metropolitan county of Merseyside), following his lead and staying open.
- “Along with the simple fact that gyms promote a healthy lifestyle, increase daily activity, educate their members on better nutrition to improve body composition and overall health it makes no sense to close them,” wrote the CrossFit gym in a social post.
- “Gyms have a support network where members feel like they can talk to their coaches about personal problems and then for that one hour (or 45 minutes with the current guidelines),” the post continued, “They can switch off from the outside world and all the negativity and just focus on themselves and release some feel good endorphins.”
- “Close the gyms but keep McDonald’s open,” the gym concluded. “No thanks.”
The story continues: As promised, Body Tech remained open to members when restrictions officially went into place. According to the New York Times, the gym closed their front doors, but allowed members to enter through a “discreet” side door. This warranted the police visits — on the second visit, enforcement was armed, Whitcombe says — and by the end of the day, the Wirral gym had racked up a £1,000 fine. Body Tech was one of five gyms to receive this fine.
By this time, a petition to raise awareness on the matter had already collected over 100,000 signatures. The petition eventually hit 400,000 signatures.
- “You have the value of the fine versus the cost of losing the whole business,” Whitcombe said in an interview.
In response to the fines, a GoFundMe page was started to cover legal fees for gyms breaching the tier-three regulations. The fund raised £53,005.
Worth noting: When Johnson announced the new restrictions on Oct. 12, the Liverpool and Merseyside area was the only part of England put into tier three. Later, when Lancashire, just a few miles away, was put into the same tier, gyms were allowed to operate without consequence.
- “With the news today [October 16] that gyms in nearby Lancashire will be permitted to operate within Tier 3 restrictions, while ones in our area can’t, consistency appears to have gone out of the window,” wrote the Wirral Council on Twitter.
The city’s Mayor, Joe Anderson, quickly demanded clarification.
Victory for the gyms: On October 21, just nine days into their fight, the announcement was made. As of October 23, gyms could open legally.
- One more big thing: Whitcombe has assured those who donated to the GoFundMe that their funds will be redistributed to a charitable cause that supports mental health.
- “Gym owners, personal trainers, coaches, and gym members have stood up and stood together to overturn the unjust decision to close gyms within the tier three restrictions,” wrote CrossFit Sempiternal on social media. “Because of the strength in numbers those with authority had no option but to listen to what was right.”