All non-essential businesses and storefronts were ordered to shut down on November 5 ahead of another month-long lockdown. While most shops obliged – (although reluctantly), a few small business owners continued to operate during restrictions.
Lauren Sundre*, 27, is a personal trainer in Liverpool who continued to hold gym sessions despite the regional lockdown.
“The main thing that made me continue was the fact that all my clients wanted to carry on. I felt this sense of responsibility to ensure they were able to do so. I felt very strongly of the fact that what I did posed no threat – but actually improved people’s health,” she told Westminster World.
As a newly qualified personal trainer Lauren will not receive any financial support from the government, and told us: “I simply couldn’t afford to not continue doing my job.”
What financial impact has COVID-19 had on businesses?
The coronavirus pandemic has been devastating to the global economy, with more than three quarters of businesses in the hospitality and travel industry at risk of bankruptcy within a year.
The Bank of England estimates that UK, GDP has fallen by 20% in 2020.
Furthermore, according to a survey conducted by The Bank of England, businesses reported that the spread of Covid-19 and the measures to contain it has led to a fall in sales of around 30% in 2020. Employment was reported to have been 5% lower and investment 33% lower.
The survey also suggested there had been a large increase in uncertainty among businesses, regarding their expectations of future sales and employment growth in the next year.
The most recent data on expectations show that businesses expect a gradual recovery in sales over the next few quarters, but sales are still expected to remain below what they would have been (in the absence of Covid-19).
How is this effecting the fitness industry?
While Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “Small businesses across the country have made a monumental effort during this crisis,” there has been no explicit mention of fitness industry.
Lauren felt the importance of the fitness industry had been overlooked by the government: “It really feels like the government doesn’t care… In fact it’s the only industry that is really beneficial to people’s mental and physical health, but I also get that it doesn’t make the government money.”
For personal trainers like Lauren and others who are self-employed, the decision to remain open was not taken lightly. Although the majority of her clients urged her to remain open during lockdown, Lauren said she might have considered staying closed if the government offered more financial support. A lot of people who were self-employed, she believed, slipped through the gaps.
“Being [recently] self-employed the only thing I could get from the government was universal credit, which is about £250 month. But with my bills and rent I would have been left in the negative.”
But what about concerns of spreading the virus?
While Lauren said she was very careful about maintaining proper hygiene and social distancing measures when carrying out her training sessions, she wasn’t too concerned about the risk of transmission.
“The maximum capacity in my local Tesco is like 700 people and there is no social distancing- everyone just goes nuts. If there is literally me and two other people in the studio, it’s well ventilated, and it’s cleaned out… I felt the risk of spreading were outweighed by the positives of being open.”
A recent scientific study of randomised trials of Covid-19 transmissions in gym facilities stated that provided there was “good hygiene and physical distancing measures, there was no increased transmission of SARS-CoV-2 at training facilities.”
However, Dr. Hilary Martin* who works in a Covid ward at a London hospital told Westminster World: “Businesses staying open illegally will potentially increase the spread of Covid, as opposed to people staying home… The potential fallout of this is that there is more pressure on the already overburden NHS.”
She continued: “I can understand why financially people feel they want to contravene the rules, but attitudes like this really upset those working in the health service who have already been at breaking point.”
Despite this, Lauren felt the consequences of closing outweighed those of staying open. The mental health and the wellbeing of her clients was important to Lauren and was even a concern her clients shared during the second lockdown: “Ninety percent of people said being at the gym made them feel so much better. People were worried about not being able to work out because of the impact it does have on their mental health.”
What were the effects of closing the fitness industry on mental health?
Experts say there is a clear association between physical fitness and mental health.
Exercising causes endorphins to be released, a chemical made by the body, which can reduce stress & pain and can create feelings of euphoria –Research has found exercise can help mental health issues like depression, anxiety and stress.
Research by the office of National Statistics shows that more than two-thirds of adults in the UK report feeling worried about the effect COVID-19 is having on their life. The most common stresses are people worrying about their future (63%) feeling stressed or anxious (56%) and feeling bored (49%).
For this reason many people petitioned for the fitness industry to remain open despite lockdown restrictions, believing that the service it provides is essential.
‘I knew it was a risk’
Lauren told Westminster World that even if the government had been more financially supportive she would have continued hosting gym sessions only because “everybody still wanted the training.” More financial support may have taken some of the pressure off to remain open, but she said she would have continued to operate because of the health benefits to her clients.
“I understand some people think badly of people who decide to ignore the lockdown rules and stay open but it wasn’t a decision that was taken lightly. My job is to make people fit and healthy.”
She said she was worried about being caught but tried to minimize the risks by asking people to take precautions and to not share details of where the fitness classes took place – “it was a risk but we took it.”
Businesses all over the UK have suffered and have taken massive losses but Lauren is hopeful. She agreed that the first lockdown was especially tough but she said: “if your business can survive Covid then you should sort of be alright moving forward.”
*names have been changed