Oldest gym member Sammy pictured alongside manager Ryan Kershaw - Sammy had to isolate so they gave him equipment to work from home.
Gyms have become communities nowadays where members are more akin to close-knit families who motivate one another to improve both their physical and mental health.
Derry gym Emerge Fitness epitomises that philosophy. Throughout lockdown members have stayed in touch and shared defining moments in their lives such as welcoming newborn babies into the world.
They’ve also supported the wider community in the midst of a once in a century health crisis through charitable work.
However, life as we know it has changed, that includes gym life.
The hands-on camaraderie synonymous with gyms may be confined to the past, at least for the foreseeable future.
The Derry News spoke to Emerge to find out how they’ve dealt with the crisis, who they’ve supported and how they plan to re-Emerge in the age of social distancing.
Back in March Emerge Fitness owners Emmet Denney and Ray McColgan continued to follow government-issued guidance.
The Springtown-based gym was cleaned every morning and night, hand sanitising stations erected, members cleaned down machines after use and social distancing was enforced.
Spokesperson and friend of the gym, Gary Glenn explained: “We did everything we could to keep our members safe and the gym open but when the government finally announced we had to close it was like a punch in the stomach.
“We had 18 staff to think about - most of them self-employed - and at that time there was nothing put in place financially to help anyone.
“It was definitely a scary time for everyone but especially small business owners like ourselves who thought that this might be the last time they close their doors.”
Like most businesses they’ve suffered ‘huge financial loss’ during this period but the time has also been used to improve the gym.
After receiving a small business grant the gym was painted and new equipment added.
In the current climate businesses must be adaptable to change, Emerge is no different, but they remain pragmatic about the road ahead: “We had to adapt while being closed and have moved our business from gym based to an online platform so our members stay active,” Gary said.
“We are super confident that we will make it back bigger and stronger than ever.
“In our short time being opened we have built up a very loyal membership base.
“We have also received loads of positive feedback from everyone in Derry about the work we have done recently with charity and how they will support us when we reopen which is great to hear.”
Photo: Gym manager Ryan Kershaw making donations for its baby products appeal
Community and charity have always been at the heart of their business model.
“Before the pandemic we offered £15 discount membership to all frontline staff NHS, Fire Service and Foyle Search and Rescue.”
The gym sponsors local athletes, donates to local charity events and at Christmas time holds a toy collection for children.
At the start of the pandemic they gathered essentials to distribute to those in need.
Well-known local entertainer Mickey Doherty reached out to the gym to help with his PPE collection.
They ran two bonus ball draws for a year’s membership to the gym raising £1,000.
PPE was donated to carers, nurses and local care homes.
“This was probably the most rewarding thing we have ever done because we got to meet the frontline staff personally and seen how much our donations meant to them,” Gary said.
Mickey Doherty then asked the gym about the possibility or lending one of its treadmills to a vulnerable person.
Because of the attention the gym received they were contacted directly by another vulnerable person and delivered a treadmill to them.
Gyms are as much about maintaining mental health as they are about physical with experts championing the holistic benefits of fitness.
Gary explained: “Our gym is a massive advocate for mental health with Emmet making his struggle with mental health public to help anyone suffering.
“Over the last 16 months he has set aside a lot of hours every week to personal train people who had reached out to him with mental health issues totally free of charge.
“The gym has given away thousands of pounds of equipment totally free of charge to members to make sure they stay active and happy.”
Northern Ireland has laid out a five-step plan for reopening society but the timeframe is flexible.
Looking to the future, the gym hopes to reopen sooner rather than later.
Emerge Fitness is the first gym in Derry to use Storm Mist - a professional spray mist sanitising service - which it says will combat harmful germs and viruses for up to 30 days.
A Certificate from Storm Mist will then be issued and displayed, giving everyone peace of mind.
The gym is keeping a close eye on the government’s phased plan and hopes ‘common sense will prevail’ and they will realise that the opening of a clean safe gym is far more important than the opening of bars and nightclubs.
“The biggest difference in gyms will probably be peoples’ behaviour towards each other.
“Gyms are famous for being an environment with big hugs, high fives and fist pumps and I hope that never changes but with social distancing this might be something of the past.”
And what they’re most excited about: “We are looking forward to having our team back together it sounds cliché but we really are one big family that do everything together.
“We are looking forward to seeing our members return and getting the great buzz about the place every single day.
“We are looking forward to helping as many people as we can reach their fitness goals.
“But most of all we are looking forward to a return to normality, a reason to get out of bed every morning with a spring in our step.
“Coffees together, lunches together and training together.”
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