Wednesday, 25 Nov 2020

Coronavirus: Fined gym owner who got £53,000 in donations hopes to give it away after ban overturned

A Merseyside business owner says he hopes to donate £53,000 to mental health charities after a local ban on gyms opening was reversed.

Gyms in the Liverpool City Region can reopen on Friday after being ordered to shut when it entered Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions on 14 October.

Liverpool now faces the same restrictions as Lancashire and Greater Manchester – but soft play areas across all areas must stay shut.

Sky News has been getting reaction from business owners – and for some, there are still serious concerns for the future.

Nick Whitcombe – owner of Body Tech Fitness in Moreton, Wirral says he is “elated and relieved”.

His gym received a £1,000 fine after defying the restrictions, citing the importance of the physical and metal wellbeing of its members.

In response, the public raised £53,000 online to support the business.

Mr Whitcombe says if the fine is dropped he hopes to donate “every single penny” to mental health charities.

He says the decision to shut gyms was “psychologically damaging and extremely tough from a mental and physical health perspective” – for both his members and him and his family.

Mr Whitcombe says the U-turn will “save a whole lot of lives” and that the “evidence wasn’t there” for the original decision.

“We are one of the main sectors that contribute to alleviating strain off of the NHS, our sector is paramount to protecting the physical and mental wellbeing of our members,” says the gym owner.

Thea Holden and Chris Ellerby-Hemmings run Empowered Fit gym – also on The Wirral.

They say they feel “humbled, overwhelmed and thankful for the industry standing together”.

The couple were also fined £2,000 after staying open, but say “we’ll personally take the hit of the fine and take this as a win for our industry”.

“The science was always on our side,” says Ms Holden, adding that authorities should have thought more deeply before deciding to stop many people from working out inside.

It’s a different story for Bev Collier-Nelson, who owns Little Buddies Play Centre and Cafe in Wigan, a children’s soft-play venue.

She will be forced to close on Friday under Greater Manchester’s new Tier 3 restrictions.

“Financially for us it’s a massive issue,” she says.

“The worrying thing is last time they told us we would be shut down for two weeks, and it turned out to be six months.

“This isn’t just a business, for this community it’s a lifeline for so many parents.”

“I could cry, and actually I have cried. I worry about my staff and the families that come here.”

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