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Fitness enthusiasts across the north and north-east return to gyms as sports facilities re-open

Fitness fans dug out their workout gear for the first time in months today as gyms reopened – with just a few slight differences to get used to.

Leisure centres and pools across were able to open their doors for the first time since March as the nation passed a major milestone on the road out of lockdown.

The date was brought forward after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon initially indicated sports facilities would only be able to reopen from September 14.

The change of plan meant a hectic few weeks for staff at gyms, but the work paid off  with the majority of visitors saying they felt safe to return to the buildings despite earlier fears about the potential for coronavirus to spread inside them.

New measures in place to keep customers safe include an abundance of hygiene stations and machines being taped off to ensure those using them remain safely spaced out.

The co-owner of Results Gym on South College Street in Aberdeen, Lewis Thomson, said: “It’s maybe going to feel a bit weird to start off with, it’s very different to what it was like pre Covid-19.

Brena Ward at Aberdeen Sports Village.

“We’ve got a lot of safety measures in place and we’ve followed the guidance down to a tee.”

The gym has a three-layer track and trace system to ensure “nobody falls through the gaps”.

Mr Thomson said: “We have members only at the moment and we’ve opted for a booking system online.”

The pandemic has been a very worrying time for a lot of people and being able to go to the gym is a good way to relieve stress.”

Nick Ruta

Members are also asked to complete an application form and the door entry system will track users coming in and out with a QR code on their phones.

The owner added: “We are operating at a reduced capacity to give people space to do what they want to do.

“Normally 33 people are allowed in the building, but this has been reduced to 16 including staff.

“We’ve made other strict guidelines including enforcing masks to be worn in the gym at all times.  If everyone follows our guidelines, it should limit the chances of any transmission.”

At Energie Fitness in Inverurie, owner Nick Ruta has formed plans to launch a “Covid support membership” for people who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

Standard membership is £24.99 and the facility hopes to provide the discounted tariff at £9 per month.

Mr Ruta said: “We want to do this as a way to look out for people who have been affected by job loss.

“The pandemic has been a very worrying time for a lot of people and being able to go to the gym is a good way to relieve stress.”

In an effort to keep members safe, the gym equipment is being thoroughly cleaned throughout the day.

Mr Ruta added: “We’ve had a long time to prepare for the opening and we would have been ready to open much sooner than now.

“We’ve been asking members if they feel safe and comfortable. So far we’ve had a very positive response, those who have been coming along seem happy – but, understandably, not everyone is ready to come back yet.”

Meanwhile, a handful of lycra-clad fitness fans were working out in the Pure Gym at Kittybrewster by 7.30am.

Duncan Scott at Aberdeen Sports Village.

There were red warning signs affixed to every second machine to ensure that people remained distant from one another, and several stands with sanitiser and anti-bacterial spray.

The gym has launched a mobile phone app which allows members to check how many people are there before attending.

Chief executive of Aberdeen Sports Village, Duncan Sinclair, last week said the mix of emotions he felt preparing for the relaunch was “like playing in a World Cup final”.

He said: “After four months, there were some nerves and a lot of excitement but we had been working behind the scenes during the downtime to make sure that we were ready to welcome our members back to enjoy all of the facilities with safety, health and well-being at the forefront.

“We have new procedures in place to ensure everyone feels safe throughout Aberdeen Sports Village, whether they are in the gym, on the tracks or in the aquatics centre, and our team is on hand to help members with the changes as everyone returns to enjoy the world-class facilities here.”

Self-employed artist, Sy Matthews, from Old Aberdeen said she had been “counting down the days for the gym to re-open” as she visited the venue off King Street.

She added: “It’s super duper to be back, I can’t put into words how happy I am.

“Over lockdown I did try doing some work outs at the park, but it’s not the same as coming to the gym where you have the expert advice.”

In the Highland capital, Inverness Leisure opened its doors to eager gym-goers at midnight with keen fitness fans ensuring the facility was busy.

Other north facilities in Fort William, Thurso and Wick were also inundated with visitors, with bookings fast filling up.

Steve Walsh, Chief Executive of High Life Highland, works on the weights in the soon to be refurbished weights room at Inverness Leisure Centre.

Operator High Life Highland’s chief executive Steve Walsh welcomed the reopening of venues two weeks earlier than originally anticipated.

He said: “We are really pleased. I think everyone was frustrated, especially when pubs were open and gyms weren’t.

“We were disappointed but not critical because we know these decisions are really difficult for the government, and we had to patient.

“For me personally, I am very lucky I have some equipment in the garage, but the thing I have really missed is being able to train with people. It is that camaraderie in the gym that is also motivational.

“There is something therapeutic in going to the gym.

“I’m totally buzzing after the swim and haven’t felt this good in such a while.”

Kirsty Ewen

“For some people, it is probably their social life. As well as getting fit and healthy, it is where they go to interact with other people as well.

“We are really lucky that we have got some loyal customers who have stuck with us through the lockdown.

“In the Highlands, we have got a unique relationship with customers. A lot have stuck with us and it is really important that we reward them as they come back and we give them a really good experience, and everyone is really focused and passionate on doing that.”

Swim coach and midnight swimmer Kirsty Ewen said: “I’m totally buzzing after the swim and haven’t felt this good in such a while.

“Activity is so important for both your physical and mental health, therefore it is great to see the leisure centres and swimming pools reopen to support those in communities where going to the gym, attending a class or, in my case, going for a swim will help them out in some personal way.”

High Life Highland is currently in the process of working with Highland Council to open joint school and community facilities over the next couple of weeks.

In Moray, Graeme Wright of Wright Fitness in Buckie described the reopening as “light at the end of the tunnel”.

Despite reopening “slowly and surely”, Wright Fitness has committed to continuing online classes whilst they built towards a full offering again.

Mr Wright said: “Business-wise it has been a huge challenge and you lose students so we have no income.

“The challenge has been monumental but the reason our business is so successful is we like a challenge and enjoy it.

“We did a walkthrough video on Facebook to reassure our clients before they returned to the gym and we have put in all the measures in line with government guidelines.”

Martin Gray of Moray Leisure Centre was elated as the Elgin facility flung its doors open.

He said: “We have had almost 130 staff off on furlough and we have had such a positive response from the public about reopening.

“The goalposts kept getting changed, which is understandable under the circumstances, but frustrating.

“The leisure centre is hugely important as we have such a wide range demographic from toddlers right up to the older members of the public.

“With this virus, a strong immune system and a healthy body helps fight against it and the best thing we can do is to help people remain fit and healthy.”

In the Western Isles, gym facilities at Ionad Spors Leodhais will reopen at 4pm on Wednesday, with facilities at Castlebay and Lionacleit due to reopen next week.

Essential maintenance is being undertaken in the pool area at Ionad Spors Leodhais with an update on reopening due in the coming days.