Gyms in Northern Ireland set to become first in UK to reopen

Preparations are under way as gyms in Northern Ireland are set to become the first in the UK to reopen following lockdown.

The Stormont Executive has directed that leisure centres and gyms may reopen from Friday.

Better Leisure, which operates 15 municipal leisure facilities on behalf of Belfast City Council, will have a gradual reopening over the coming days.

This follows extensive preparation work to transform facilities to allow for social distancing.

There has been a reduction of and spacing out of equipment within gym areas, fitness classes have been relocated to sports halls or outdoor areas, one way systems put in place and there will be a reduction on the number of customers, who must prebook their visit.

Better Leisure has also described an enhanced cleaning regime, sanitising equipment, limited changing room access and observing two metre social distancing.

Gyms at nine of the larger buildings, including Brook, Grove, Lisnasharragh, Olympia, Falls, Better Gym Belfast, Better Gym Connswater, Andersonstown and Shankill will open for limited sessions from Friday to test the safety measures.

Gyms and classes at those centres will reopen fully from Tuesday, while other facilities including swimming pools will remain closed.

Gareth Kirk, GLL’s Regional Director for Belfast, said the eyes of the gym industry in the UK will be on Northern Ireland.

“We have been working on this for the last six weeks with a July opening date in mind,” he told the PA news agency.

Gym equipment (Barry Batchelor/PA)
Gym equipment (Barry Batchelor/PA)

“Staff are going through five days of preparation and training ready to open up fully next Tuesday.

“Northern Ireland is the first country across the four nations that is opening up gyms and leisure centres this week.

“So it is a big step, not just for the sector but also for the UK as a whole and I think eyes will be on Northern Ireland on Friday as we open up gyms for the first time.”

He described the experience of visiting a leisure centre as having changed, with prebooking via a smartphone app essential both in terms of capacity and to support track-and-trace efforts.

“We will make sure that everyone that comes in to use the facilities, we have their details so in the event there was an issue or outbreak down the line we know who was in on that date,” he said.

“There has been a lot of thinking over the last six weeks on how we make this safe.

“The industry is really raring to go and get open but at the same time it is about making sure it is safe to do so.

“There has been a lot of work in the last week to get this up and running, and we’re aware that some of our counterparts in Wales, Scotland and England are doing the same but they are in a position where they still don’t have a date when they can open.”

Mr Kirk added that he hopes there will be a decision over reopening swimming pools within the next week.

“We’re suggesting lane swimming only in the early stages and we’ll double the width of the lanes to create more space,” he said.

“And we’ll ask customers to turn up kit ready, so they’ll have their kit on underneath their clothes and more than likely change at the poolside and only go through the changing rooms on their way out to encourage the one-way system.

“The advice we have had is that the swimming environment is relatively safe, the challenge is the changing room and touch points so that’s where we will focus cleaning.”

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