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UKAA Webinar: Residential gyms and pools in BTR, will the landscape change after COVID-19? Presented by Educated Body

Tuesday 19th May 2020

We were joined alongside Educated Body for a webinar session on fitness during Covid-19 and what the “new normal” might look like post lockdown. We got exclusive access to research findings from Educated Body, in association with the UK’s leading consumer insight specialist on UK fitness. We gained an understand of the sector’s rapid response and the changes we are seeing and how these will impact BTR. We were also able to learn some practical tips on how to re-open, re-launch and keep everyone safe.

During the webinar we explored the following:

1. The fitness industry’s rapid response to its doors being closed 20th March 2020.

2. The digital explosion, which companies are coming out on top and what the BTR sector might learn from this.

3.  What will the rebound look like and will the fitness landscape change?

5.  How will these changes impact fitness and amenity provision in BTR?

6.  What are some of the practical steps BTR can take to open up quickly, effectively and safely.


Phillippa Hardman – Managing Director of Educated Body

Andy Kay – Chairman of Educated Body

Webinar write-up

Amenity Space Planning – Are You Ready for a New Type of Fitness Consumer?

Earlier this month, in an article about the Octagon build-to-rent tower proposed for Birmingham’s Paradise development, Managing Director Michael Howard of urbanbubble said.

“people working from city-centre BTR apartments under stay-at-home restrictions will use lease renewals in late spring and early summer to move to properties that provide facilities allowing them to work, live and play at a higher quality level of comfort and enjoyment. They will put a premium on balconies or roof gardens, fast and reliable broadband, dedicated home working space and access to communal social space where social distancing can be safely practised”.

There is little to disagree with in Michael’s statement and there is no doubt that close to a month after he said this, we remain in the grip of the Virus and social distancing is still at the forefront of everyone’s minds. But what about those lease renewals that come along in the autumn, winter or next spring? What will drive buyer behaviour then once the country re-opens?

Educated Body is a fitness specialist and so there is no surprise we are going to come at this from a fitness and wellbeing angle. But here is the thing – fitness has changed in the last six weeks. There has been a digital revolution, the genie is out of the bottle and there is no going back.

In a recent UKAA webinar Educated Body talked about how the fitness landscape for BTR will change post Covid-19. The driver for these changes across BTR follows on from the changes we are seeing across the wider fitness sector, and the changes we are seeing amongst UK exercise consumers.

Searches on Google for online workouts rose by 700% in the first week of lockdown. Boris Johnson allowed us to go out of the house, but only if we were exercising. Exercise dominated social media platforms. Across the nation, suddenly everyone was talking about exercise.

Fitness habits are continuing to change during lockdown. In a survey of over 4,000 people conducted by Alliance Leisure, 70% of those who were inactive* pre lockdown said they had increased their activity levels in recent weeks. This group is now active in a way it was not before. Many of these people will now be more confident to go from home exercise classes, walking, running and cycling to training in a gym. Previously inactive people are enjoying exercise and becoming habituated to it. They are a potential new consumer for fitness businesses, and for BTR, they are a renter with a newfound opinion on fitness.

Of those people who were active** pre lockdown, 48% have reported a decrease in activity levels because of Covid-19 restrictions. This group most likely contains pre-lockdown gym goers who used to regularly visit a club. With all facilities closed, the people in this group are likely missing their workout at the gym. This is a group that is expected to return quickly to old habits once lockdown is over. Combine this group with the previously inactive people with new fitness habits, and it means gym usage is likely to go up once the fear factor subsides immediately post lockdown.

It is not only consumer fitness habits that are changing but the way fitness is being delivered to its customer. Widespread closure of facilities has moved fitness online and we are experiencing a digital revolution. Of one hundred and forty-four different fitness businesses researched by leading consumer insight specialist Proinsight Research Ltd, 35% had pivoted to provide digital group exercise sessions in a little over a week. We saw instructors conducting workouts in messy garages and dining rooms but also others with immaculate staff, professional lighting, and full branding. We witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly but nevertheless businesses stepped up and they stepped up fast. Customers appreciated what the fitness sector was doing, and they joined in the classes in big numbers. Digital fitness, for the moment, is at the forefront of the entire fitness industry.

The question now is are online classes here to stay and the answer is surely yes. In lockdown most fitness businesses offered digital services free of charge but moving forward they will want to monetise this, and the quality will improve.

Some commercial health clubs in other countries, who have already opened their doors, are seeing new membership joiners at higher levels than May 2019. It is still early days, but these are positive signs for the sector. Being fit and healthy is widely seen as vital to boost the immune system and this may account for some of the increased interest in fitness.

For BTR, the increased profile exercise is now enjoying will translate into more users wanting to use this amenity space post lockdown. Combine this with a higher percentage of people working from home and the question you will need to answer is whether your fitness facility is big enough?

The digital explosion has meant more people have tried many more different types of group exercise sessions. In the privacy of their own homes they have tried yoga, HiiT, GRIT, box fit and the rest. They have become a better-informed consumer. Will your BTR development be able to offer enough variety to compete for your share of renters?

Digital has become a new way to consume fitness. The front-room home experience for some will shift to a physical studio space with a big screen, somewhere they can do a virtual session with a few friends. As well as a gym, does your BTR development have a studio space that tenants can use for scheduled group exercise and for on-demand private or semi-private use?

One final comment, Michael mentioned roof gardens in his article earlier this month. Immediately post lockdown, whilst social distancing restricts the number of people able to use the gym, a roof garden or re-purposed outdoor space provides an opportunity for group exercise. Look creatively at these spaces in the next week or so and plan for their use applying the same risk assessment and safe working practice modelling you would use for any indoor space.

Fitness is changing and the fitness consumer is evolving. Fitness as an amenity space within BTR needs even more careful thought than ever before.

*inactive – defined as doing less than 30 minutes exercise per week pre lockdown

** active – defined as doing more than 90 minutes exercise per week pre lockdown


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