Exmoor Community Challenges Leisure Company to Keep Gym Open
|Author: Clara Lawrie||Published: 12th April 2012 09:17|
1610 (formerly Somerset Leisure) announced last month that it will be closing the Exmoor Gym in Dulverton from the end of April, leaving many without a vital local health and fitness resource.
Dulverton's Exmoor Gym boasts over 80 members. No mean feat in the middle of Exmoor. But still not enough for the owners, 1610 - a Somerset based Leisure Company which states on its website: "1610 is a non-profit making leisure trust dedicated to delivering excellence in everything we do - from leisure and learning to health and wellbeing."
The small town of Dulverton is hoping to save the day, calling on the large company to hand over the reins to a committed and professional group of locals. Unfortunately 1610 seem intent on blocking all the town's best efforts to save the vital facility.
Concerned gym members attended a meeting together with local vicar, John Thorogood (far right), Keith Ross, OBE, and Town Councillors Bernie Howe, and Christine Dubery
Following a meeting of gym-users and concerned locals (including members of Dulverton Town Council and the church) a group was formed - Save Exmoor Gym, to look into the viability of running the gym independently. ‘The gym is perfectly viable and could easily be run by the community,' says chartered accountant Sarah Blackburn. ‘1610 could walk away with no further cost to their company.'
The Save Exmoor Gym group is made up of professionals in governance, legal, financial, marketing, fundraising, IT, management, fitness, child and vulnerable people protection, and health and safety, so has the expertise needed to run a company, a charity and a gym. They propose that they could run the gym as a company limited by guarantee and registered as a charity, and would be accountable to local people via the Town Council (with a Town Councillor on the board)
1610 Home page Welcome
Author, journalist, TV and Radio personality and prolific blogger, Dulverton resident Jane Alexander said: "1610 claims the closure is due to financial reasons, saying it ‘is not economically viable to keep the gym open' and blaming low membership numbers. However 1610 have consistently refused to market the facility or explore other membership possibilities (corporate, family etc) and in general seem curiously resistant to making the gym a financial success.
"1610 is supposedly a ‘not-for-profit organisation' but seem far more interested in pursuing large out of county facilities (they have recently won the contract to run a large fitness facility in Dorset) than supporting grassroots health and fitness on their home patch."
1610, who also own West Somerset gym in Minehead, are digging in their heels. They have refused to meet with either representatives of the Exmoor Gym group or the local Town Council. Yesterday Cllr Keith Ross told AboutMyArea: "I have not received a reply to my e-mail to Tim Nightingale, chief exec. of 1610 nor did I receive a reply from my phone call early this morning - he was in a meeting when I called. So, no meeting. It seems that they have made their decision and are not negotiating with the users."
The company also declined the opportunity to discuss the issue on BBC Somerset Radio and has not responded to members' emails. Instead it issued a statement saying, ‘1610 leisure trust has announced the temporary closure of the Exmoor gym at Dulverton while it carries out a community review to establish if there is a long-term future for the facility in the town.'
The company says it may re-open in September but gym members and local community leaders are unconvinced that the company has any lasting commitment to the gym.
The Save Exmoor Gym group managed to talk to Nick Lovett, Operations Manager of 1610 on the telephone and Mr Lovett made it quite clear that the company's decision to close the gym was not open for discussion. He said their position was not going to change and that the company was not interested in entering into dialogue with the Dulverton group.
The community cannot understand their reaction. Dulverton Reverand, John Thorogood said: "I have a feeling that large organisations often don't understand small communities and have a one-size-fits-all mentality. The Exmoor Gym needs to be given the freedom to operate in the way the local community wants and needs."
The gym has over 80 committed members ranging from 11 year old children to pensioners in their 80s. Many members use it as part of their recovery from cancer and other chronic illness and its impact is as much on the mental health of members as it is on the physiological.
Rob Day, a 42 yr old cancer sufferer, said: "Getting and keeping fit is essential to me. Travelling to an alternative is not a viable option."
The Day family
Mr. Day's 11 year old son, Charlie, wrote in support of the gym:
The Exmoor gym has helped my family in so many ways.
There is one big reason though, my dad has cancer. So far he has had four operations and the reason why he's still here today is because it is Trisha and the gym that has got him fit. His Physiotherapist said that he got through the operations so well because he went to the gym and got himself fit, so if the gym was to close and if he had to have another operation he may not survive - so we need to keep the gym going. I started going to the after school gym club on
Thursday's, and it's been great because I have something to do after school.
To many people in Dulverton, going to the gym is basically like a physical coffee morning (but without the coffee) because you meet people you know, so we need to keep Exmoor gym going.
Group member, Sarah Blackburn concludes: "This is the Big Society in action. Localism in action, rather than a nice theory."
Support sport and fitness in Somerset. Support mental and physical health on Exmoor.
Support the Dulverton gym - ‘the small gym with a big heart'.
Follow @exmoorgym on Twitter or see the website: www.exmoorgym.org.uk