Coronavirus: Gyms, pools and play centres in Wales reopen

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Swimmers and gym-goers say they are "so glad to be back"

Gyms, swimming pools, leisure centres and play centres are reopening as lockdown continues to ease in Wales.

A personal trainer in Cardiff said he was excited to get back to the gym, but had found it "amazing" to see how the industry had adapted to working online.

A soft play centre owner in Rhondda Cynon Taff said she was excited but surprised to be able to reopen as businesses in England await a date.

Councils have been given extra powers to enforce legal requirements.

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Gym goers were back early on Monday morning in St Asaph, Denbighshire

The Welsh Government said businesses are legally required "to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus" on their premises.

If businesses fail to comply, local authorities can issue improvement notices or, in the event of a serious breach or a failure to comply with a notice, an order to close.

Requirements include:

  • Ensuring people maintain a two-metre distance where possible
  • Implementing measures to avoid close interaction when social distancing is not possible, such as installing screens, using face coverings and improving hygiene
  • Providing customers and staff with information to help them understand what they need to do in order to stay safe on the premises
  • Areas which cannot be easily cleaned - such as ball pits - should remain closed.

Gyms and leisure centres

Image source, Getty Images
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Bathers will be asked to arrive at the pool "swim-ready"

While gyms and leisure centres are able to reopen, they will look very different to the way they did before the pandemic.

Saunas and steam rooms will remain closed, equipment will be more spread out to allow social distancing and swimmers are asked to arrive at the pool "swim-ready".

At the start of lockdown, people were limited to exercising outside once a day, not allowed to travel except for essential reasons, and were unable to exercise in groups.

"Initially I thought 'you can close whatever you like, but just not the gyms'," said Louise Downie-Davies, who had been attending small personal trainer-led classes at SOS Athletic Excellence, in Cardiff.

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Louise Downie-Davies says she has enjoyed working out at home "more than I thought I would"

Since that day, Ms Downie-Davies said she has been working from home, training from home and "attempting" to home-school two children aged six and 13.

But the gym quickly switched to classes held over Zoom, which she enjoyed "more than I thought I would".

Asked how she felt about returning to the gym, Ms Downie-Davies said: "I'm not as excited as I thought I might be.

"I think that's because I have been doing difficult stuff in my home workouts.

"But it will be nice being out of the house and seeing gym friends - it's good to have the motivation and competition."

Other gym-goers have said they are happy to see facilities reopen after several months of restricted forms of exercise.

Shaun Paul, who attends a gym in St Asaph, Denbighshire, said: "I was only coming here about three months before the lockdown but I have been really missing it. It's really nice to get back in the gym and get a good a sweat on."

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Personal trainer Greg Foley says web-savvy businesses would find it easier to "transition out of lockdown"

Ms Downie-Davies's personal trainer, Greg Foley, said the gym had "got ahead of the curve" in terms of online sessions, and that the small size of the classes "should make it easier to transition out of lockdown".

But he explained personal trainer-led businesses have had difficulties in other ways, particularly when it comes to taking on new customers when they cannot meet in person.

"It has been very hard to build that emotional connection, which is important in getting the client to buy into the process," Mr Foley said.

"If they don't trust you, they won't trust what you are trying to get them to do."

Gyms have had to adapt quickly to online working to survive, and Mr Foley believes some changes may become permanent.

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Mr Foley says it has been "amazing" to see how quickly businesses have adapted to working online

"As a personal trainer, I was taught 'online would never work', so it has been amazing to see how quickly the industry has changed.

"A lot of clients will be happy to stay online because they have seen that, actually, gym equipment is not absolutely necessary to what they want to achieve.

"They see the amount of family time wasted, whereas they can drive home and do their workout in 45 minutes."

Another Cardiff gym owner thinks the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of physical fitness for overall welfare.

"The benefits the fitness industry can have on individuals in terms of keeping them fit and healthy and safe, that's something that has to be the priority going forward," said Robin Soden-Taylor, of Ion Strength and Conditioning.

But the restrictions will impose extra costs on businesses that will not be operating at full capacity.

Image source, Paul Jenkins
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Paul Jenkins, pictured with gym member Grace, says adhering to the new rules will be expensive

"Since it was announced, everyone's been phoning, saying 'when can we get back?'," said Paul Jenkins, director of the Diplomat Hotel and Spa, in Llanelli.

"We've had to get all the sanitising machines. They're all essential. Extra staff have been taken on in the gym for sanitising.

"For equipment, screens have been put in reception, and signage everywhere. It does work out quite expensive, but it's got to be done."

Angharad Collins, who runs the Leisure Trust in Torfaen, said the restrictions will mean monthly losses for leisure centres.

Speaking to BBC Radio Wales Breakfast, she said: "The measures that we have put in place, we completely understand that we have to do that for Covid, but the social distancing measures and the amount of people that we can have in the building are causing us a commercial viability issue.

"So for example in my gym I'd usually be able to take 50 people but I can only take 13 now. In my swimming pool, where I usually could fit 50 people, I can now only take 18 people."

"We hope the general public appreciate the measures that we've put in place for their safety and for our staff."

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Back in the swim: Ray Morgan was one of 18 back in the Pontypool pool

One of the lucky swimmers back in the pool in Pontypool was Ray Morgan: "It's absolutely brilliant. I've been lucky, I've been able to get a bit of outdoor swimming in but there's nothing beats the training environment of the pool - it's warmer, it's cleaner.

"For me, swimming is a big part of my life. When you can't do something that you love so much, it does take its toll on you. Everyone has really missed having access to the pool."

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Swimmer Kathryn Moody: "I'm so glad to be back"

Kathryn Moody was also back in the pool for the first time since March.

"My whole routine changed - you're looking for other ways to keep fit and get in shape. But there's nothing that does it like swimming. I'm so glad to be back."

Play centres

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Carol James owns a soft play centre near Pontypridd

Children's play centres in England have still not been given a date for reopening, making Friday's announcement a surprise for some in Wales.

"We weren't expecting it at all," said Carol James, owner of Tiny Tumblers, in Church Village, near Pontypridd.

"We were waiting for England to get the go-ahead, then we thought we would be about three weeks behind England."

Although it would have been nice to have "more time and more guidelines", Ms James said the news was "fantastic - I can't wait".

And Gwen Evans, owner of Cantref Adventure Farm in Brecon, told BBC Radio Wales the news had come "very suddenly".

Image source, Cantref
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Gwen Evans says reopening Cantref Adventure Farm will be "fantastic"

"We weren't expecting to be able to open the soft play, so we've been busy putting processes in place," she said.

"We've been changing our booking systems. There's a lot of logistics to get it up and running for Monday, but it will be fantastic."

Ms Evans added that extra costs and the loss of income from what is usually one of the busiest times of year, would make it an "uncertain autumn and winter".