The unity of the industry in the UK over the last few weeks has been incredible. Operators, trade bodies and stakeholders have worked as one to win the battle to keep gyms open in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
Part of the urgency felt by everyone involved has been a passionate belief that we are being misunderstood and incorrectly classified as a sector by government.
One point which brought this home was the inclusion of gyms in the same bracket as strip clubs during the government’s secondary lockdown planning.
We’re arguing the sector needs to get itself ‘reclassified’, by taking charge of the vocabulary used to define it, so there’s no doubt as to our intentions and value.
We’re advocating the industry adopts the term ‘regulated’, and uses it to describe and define what we do.
Operators have invested huge sums in the software and systems needed to run COVID-secure facilities and the levels of regulation we’re able to deliver have been proven to be sufficient to keep our customers safe.
Logic and evidence suggest the virus is mainly spreading in unregulated environments, such as homes, so in referring to ourselves as regulated, we’re putting the industry firmly in the category of operations that are helping to reduce the spread of the virus and keep people safe.
It’s also a ‘futureproof’ term recognised by government and puts us in the same bracket as trusted sectors such as financial services, the law, airlines and utilities.
We must also fight to become recognised as an essential service, something ukactive has been lobbying hard for.
There are other terms we must adopt too. Decisionmakers in the NHS see their responsibilities as being related to ‘protection’ and ‘prevention’, with gyms currently filed firmly in the prevention category.
Given the pandemic is bringing protection to the fore as the priority for the NHS, our potential to contribute – via our work on prevention – is currently reduced.
We must argue that as a regulated sector which has proven it can operate in a COVID-secure way, we are also able to contribute to the NHS’s protection work, thereby showing we can deliver in relation to both prevention and protection.
If we can control the vocabulary, we can engage more powerfully with the government and the medical sector for the delivery of things such as COVID-19 recovery programmes and earn recognition for our professionalism.
The reputation management work done this year by the sector has brought us forward decades. The opportunity now is to nail this down by accurately defining ourselves and creating a consumer-facing kitemark to build trust.