A Stockton couple who run a gym in the village have been blown away by the goodwill and community spirit of their clients after the pandemic forced them to rely on help from their family.
And thanks to a grant from Stratford District Council, they have now been able to refurbish the inside of their gym and make it look even better – and more Covid secure - for their loyal customers.
Better than Before Fitness, based on the Blue Lias Industrial Estate, suffered a huge drop in income when lockdown was announced by the Government.
Partners Glenn Cooper and Kellie Sweeney, who have run the gym for the past three years, moved to their current site in September 2019 as a way of expanding their capacity.
They were thinking of expanding even further in 2020, but the pandemic put a stop to those plans.
The gym prides itself on coaching every client who comes in, and as such attracted a different kind of gym-goer.
Kellie said: “Our clients are people who might be a little put off by normal gyms and want a little bit of guidance and encouragement when they work out.
“Things were looking really good for us just before lockdown was announced. We continued to attract more and more clients, and we were in the process of expanding our business.
“But then of course, the pandemic hit, and we were forced to close our doors.
“We anticipated something like that might happen in the days leading up to the announcement, so we encouraged our clients to take kettlebells home with them so they could work out at home via Zoom.
“Some of our clients even continued to pay us because they knew how much trouble we were in, which we were incredibly grateful for. But we knew we couldn’t rely on that for long.
“It was a really tough time. When things were at their hardest, we had to rely on our family to help us pay our bills.”
A Discretionary Rate Business Grant from Stratford District Council as well as a government bounce-back loan were crucial lifelines for Glenn and Kellie, and the two put the money to good use.
“The grant paid our rent and our bills – but it also gave us a chance to improve our gym,” Kellie added.
“We’re based in an old industrial unit, so while we have excellent equipment, the interior wasn’t the most attractive.
“The extra money allowed us to install rustic wooden panels around the walls, so now the gym looks far better.
“When our clients returned in July, they said it felt like a brand-new gym, which was fantastic to hear.”
Since reopening, Glenn and Kellie have seen around 80 per cent of their old clients return, and have attracted new ones too.
Kellie added: “We’re not quite back to where we were before lockdown, but all things considered, we’re doing pretty well.
“If it weren’t for the loyalty of our customers and the extra money we received from the grants, I’m not sure what we would have done.
“Now our clients have come back, we’re confident we’ll be ‘better than before’.
Businesses in the district are also being supported by Stratford District Council to promote the safe reopening of the High Streets in response to Covid-19 through the Government’s Reopening High Streets Safely Fund which is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
The project has received £116,036 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.
The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for ERDF. Established by the European Union ERDF funds help local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information visit https://www.gov.uk/european-growth-funding
Caption – Front row from left:, Glenn Cooper, Kellie Sweeney. Back row from left: Alice Little, Neha Dhiawan, Lynsey Shirley-Smith, Sevil Lloyd Thomas