With lockdown easing but the impact of Covid-19 still very much at the forefront of society, we wanted to hear from local businesses and creatives to discover how it has affected them and how they are managing to restore ‘normality’. First up, I spoke to one of the most innovative and forward thinking business owners in the city, Luke Newton.
Luke is one of the co-founders of SWEAT Southsea. They opened their doors in 2015, they specialise in 1-1 and small group training and sports injury rehabilitation. The team’s expertise spans Strength and Conditioning, Sports Injury Rehab, Pre and Post Natal exercise and Pilates. Luke is also a founder and organiser of The Fitness Festival, a free-to-attend event that inspires and celebrates active and healthy lifestyles and has attracted over 8,000 people in the last two years alone.
Could you tell me how coronavirus lockdown has affected your business?
When we received the instruction to close our doors on Friday 20th March, we were obviously extremely concerned. We had a small buffer but our monthly members also paid a month upfront as normal with the promise of a month back later in the year. We knew that we could protect jobs, cover the additional 20% of salaries for our furloughed staff and survive a few months with no money coming in. I believe that the furlough scheme was implemented in a timely fashion and I think it is fair to assume that a business should be able to survive one month without any income. As we move towards reopening our doors, we’re currently at around 40% our usual revenue through outdoor and digital training. That obviously isn’t sustainable but is a situation a lot of businesses have found themselves in and we’ll be glad to open our doors again.
How do you feel that the government has supported your sector?
We were in the French Alps when the lockdown there came into full effect and in hindsight, given the spread of the virus across the world, I think the UK should have followed suit with a quarantine period and lockdown measures of our own. In my opinion, the UK lockdown wasn’t as strict as the rest of Europe, was late in coming and lack of a track and trace system has meant we have suffered far more than other European countries.
The furlough scheme has been an unprecedented act of support by Government and it has saved jobs within our company. The phased return to work has been useful and we have been able to react dynamically to the increasing demand as restrictions have eased. The small business grant of £10,000 was received with 24 hours, but the majority of it went towards invoices we had outstanding and our commercial rent. Business rate relief was also helpful, but a step that would have been expected. We decided to crowdfund with a pay-it-forward campaign. We successfully raised £5,000 and this has been invested immediately into our teams continued training and development. We applied for a local match-funding initiative and await a response
I think all in all, we have been well supported given the furlough scheme, small business grant, and business rate relief. However, the sector is at immediate risk and VAT relief and the continuation of the business rate holiday would help stimulate and revitalise the sector which needs to be strong to support the Government’s obesity strategy. The Chief Medical Advisor himself said during the lockdown: “There is no situation, there is no age and no condition where exercise is not a good thing.”
How have you managed personally with lockdown?
On a personal level, I have generally coped well in lockdown. There were a few sleepless nights with overthinking and anxiety, but I appreciated the time at home. It was amazing to run without traffic on the roads, to sit in the garden without the background noise and to appreciate nature. It was great to slow down and appreciate what we had around us. I think that lockdown was an opportunity for us all to reflect upon how we live our life. And as a business owner, I think that lockdown was an opportunity to build trust in our community and with our team, and a chance to reflect on the future of the business, including its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
What steps are you taking or have you needed to take in order to re-open to the public?
Our company, in the health and fitness industry is still in lockdown although we have been able to operate online and outdoors. We are following all Government guidance and going above and beyond – we will continue with outdoor and digital classes because our Studio class capacity will be halved to just 5 clients. We’ll have a maximum of 9 clients on premises at any time with 1-1 and small group sessions. We have invested in new equipment and in our team with professional training and development and we believe we have an unparalleled level of expertise on offer. There will be temperature checks upon every visit, equipment won’t be shared and we’ll be respecting social distancing guidelines. The gym itself will have a heightened level of cleaning with regular deep cleans and fogging scheduled and our risk assessment is set to be published and accessible for clients peace of mind and transparency.
Do you have any idea what the short or long term future holds for you and your business?
Short-term, we have decided not to take on new sports massage clients this calendar year regardless of Government guidance but will continue to serve existing massage clients. We anticipate our overall class and PT membership numbers will actually grow in the next three months which isn’t something that is anticipated industry-wide but perhaps points to the strength of being a specialist provider with tailored services, smaller groups, less crowds etc. Our 1-1 Personal Training services will return much the same as before but with social distancing and no physical cueing. Long-term, we’re still positive in our vision and confident in what we’re doing.