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By ukactive Director of Client Services, Steven Scales

Nearly a year to the day, I wrote a blog on the eve of Fibo, highlighting the chance to come together in Cologne, to network, to discuss and debate, and to set the agenda for the year ahead. Over the course of our sector’s calendar year, togetherness is a statement mentioned by a multitude of organisations. The benefits of collaboration are what will allow the sector to further improve the health of the nation. However, the use of the word ‘togetherness’ has often been seen as a token comment – actions speak louder than words.

As we enter week three of the Government’s Covid-19 (coronavirus) lockdown in the UK, levels of stress are high and the future uncertain. The health of the nation is not just top-tier, but the number one challenge facing the world in light of the pandemic.

The purpose of this blog is not only to document the past few weeks from the perspective of an ex-Fitness Manager from Corby, but, amidst the fight, the shining examples of when we have worked together.

Following the launch of our Together newsletter for members, we are pleased to bring you a new series of stories from our team and members over the coming weeks, under the ‘Together’ banner, showcasing the best examples of resilience and collaboration from across our great sector.

I’ve seen teams across the board (including our own) faced with an ever-moving barrage of challenges, continuously fighting for prolonged hours each day, and all with one goal: to keep the sector moving, and to secure a future for physical activity in the UK.

In late-February we were developing sector guidance with input from our member operators through the ukactive Standards and Legislation Committee, and directly with Public Health England (PHE), to provide clarity for our members around the operational measures for remaining open safely (such as deep-cleaning), and where the sector stood overall. Once the guidance was finalised, it became widely adopted, as did our public message around exercising safely within gyms at that time.

The clarity from PHE around the procedure for closures meant that through contact-tracing a small number of members’ facilities were advised to close and undertake deep-cleaning on the weekend of the 8-9 March. The way in which organisations handled closure and reopening was exemplary. The sharing of experience, guidance and practice broke down many of the outdated sector silos, reflecting the pace with which the sector adapts to continue to provide a first-class service.

By 11 March, Huw Edwards, Dave Alstead and I were in Scotland, at one of the best workshops I’ve ever been part of, with the Scottish Leisure Network. Our aim was to develop the foundations of a collective voice in Scotland, setting the scene for years if not generations to come, but there was an underlying concern from all about what effect COVID-19 would have on society, and the longer-term impact on our sector.

As I took the night train home, you could feel the tone beginning to change and I woke in Euston at 6am to be greeted by an eerie silence – there was a sparse footfall across the square. Over the course of the coming days, the level of uncertainty facing the sector grew, revenue dropped across the board in line with footfall, and the Government ordered people not to travel. In keeping with the level of uncertainty facing many sectors globally, it felt as though control of our future was being taken out of our hands.

However, as facilities were forced to close following the Government’s announcement on 20 March, a potentially dire situation also presented an opportunity: to unite in our actions – to plot a new course, not just of survival, but to create a prosperous sector on the other side.

The sector has come together and stepped up to the challenge. The obstacles ahead are still coming thick and fast, particularly concerning maintaining our facilities and workforce. But the sector’s ability to step aside from the competitive environment to support the overall sustainability of our landscape has been truly remarkable – from the digital innovations for home workouts and redeployed workforces, to the united lobbying provided behind ukactive.

Through all levels, partners and channels, the tone of selfless leadership, ­to work with each other, to ensure a clear pathway through the crisis, must continue.

The Together series is more than just shared practice to us; it highlights the examples of leadership, partnership and togetherness that will guide us through the coming months. We want to say thanks to all of our members for uniting together behind ukactive – keep up the hard work and amazing impact you are having.

I like memorable quotes, and Dave Courteen, from Mosaic, passed me this one, which I’d like to leave you with. In the film ‘Apollo 13’, the entire NASA team is waiting to see if they can get the disabled craft back to earth safely. One of the team whispers: “This could be the greatest disaster NASA has ever had.” The Chief Commander overhears him and replies: “With all due respect sir, this could be our finest hour.”

I think we all may look back on coronavirus, as an industry, and think this is indeed the physical activity sector’s finest hour.


Look out for the latest Together articles on the ukactive News pages and Journal

And get the latest sector guidance and analysis at the ukactive COVID-19 hub