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Inverness gym members stage ‘hands off’ protest against bowling alley plans

A planning application that would close the gym and swimming pool has provoked a furious reaction from the popular gym's members.

Gym members show their support with banners. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson
Gym members show their support with banners. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Members of an Inverness gym have held a protest against plans to change its use into a bowling alley.

More than 40 Everlast gym members showed up to an event in support of the facilities at Inverness Shopping Park.

Some say they would lose their entire social life as a result of losing the gym.

Sports Direct and Everlast, who currently lease the premises, are owned by Frasers Group.

Plans submitted by landlord Hercules Unit Trust to create a new bowling alley and inflatable activity course have already faced 131 objections.

Everlast gym members say plans would destroy a community

Ann Irvine and Gillian Cameron are members who use the pool facilities and attend classes.

Both are part of the objections which have been lodged.

80-year-old Gillian lives alone in Nairn and is the mother of America’s Next Top Model judge Nigel Barker.

She has been a member for 12 years, joining when it was DW Fitness gym in 2011.

80-year-old Gillian Cameron believes the gym is her social lifeline. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Gillian said: “I was absolutely horrified when we found out about plans.

“The gym is my lifeline. My husband died nearly four years ago and now I’m on my own.

“I come to the gym three or four times a week. I needed friends and here I’ve made some for life.”

Ann says the response has been fantastic from Everlast gym members who are fighting to save the gym.

Everlast gym member Ann Irvine has urged more to fight for the facilities. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

She said: “It’s been absolutely fantastic the level of support.

“The staff are superb here and have helped to make it not just a gym – it’s a community.

“I’d urge people to have a look at the plans and object.”

Swimtime host lessons for around 300 children in the facilities and owner Paul Lagar is worried about physical and mental health if the pool closes.

He said: “We’ve worked in the pool for three years now, after Covid the influx for lessons is vast. We don’t want to lose our program here.”

Meanwhile local football team Inverness Caledonian Thistle also use the facilities for gym work and rehabilitation.

Reassurance from Everlast over potential closure

General manager Nagina Ishaq said she only found out about the plans when members came in and quizzed staff after reading press reports.

The mum-of-two, who stays in Dingwall, said they have been reassured by bosses lease negotiations are underway.

She said: “We tried to contact the owners and couldn’t get through to anyone with information.

“At the moment I’ve been told the business is not planning to relocate.

Fitness experience manager Rory Latta, general manager Nagina Ishaq and member experience host Aidan Forrest. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

“In fact, there are actually ongoing talks on plans for renovations and upgrades of the facilities.”

Everlast moved into he facilities following the administration of DW Sports three years ago.

Nagina said the uncertainties have added pressure in her home life.

She added: “I have two school-going kids and my husband is not keeping well unfortunately. There’s a lot of pressure on me to keep the house running.

“We also have two staff members who recently had babies.

“This adds pressure as well as worries on what the future holds.”

Owners response

British Land, which is in charge of Hercules Trust Unit, said it “continually reviews its retail and leisure mix to ensure it reflects visitor demand and market trends”.

A spokeswoman said: “Following the administration of the original gym operator DW Sports and subsequent occupation by Sports Direct’s Everlast gym on a temporary basis, we have submitted exciting plans to convert the unit into a tenpin bowling alley and an inflatable adventure zone.”

Frasers Group, which is majority owned by retail magnate Mike Ashley and owns both Sports Direct and Everlast, said it is not ready to comment on the situation as it continues lease discussions.

A spokesman for Highland Council said the planning application is currently “under consideration”.

The spokesman said: “The committee date is not yet available we therefore have nothing to add on the timing of the decision.

“Anyone who wishes to comment or object to a planning application should lodge their comments through the planning process to ensure that any material considerations raised are taken into account in the determination of the application.”

The deadline for objections is Friday.