The University has set aside funds to extend its £6.5 million on-campus gym – as students complain that lengthy queues and “one-in, one-out” policies have made them question the value of their £200+ memberships.
“We have been experiencing a high demand for the Russell Seal Fitness Centre over the past week,” the centre’s Business Systems Manager Andrew Fry told Exeposé, “which is fantastic when the University has an objective for 70% of students to take part in physical activity at least once a week”.
5,673 student members are currently enrolled at Russell Seal – a increase of 216 on last year’s membership figures. “Clearly we need to manage this and this places pressure on facilities,” he admitted, adding: “I’m sure you are aware a new year brings many resolutions and we always see a surge in memberships at this time of year.”
“I was there on the first Monday of term at 6pm and it was unreal,” one final year languages student told Exeposé. “They had put signs over the self-service machines saying that you had to be signed in at the desk and on top of it I was then told it was full!” The experience was “pretty much like a one-in, one-out policy at a club,” she remembered – adding:“after waiting around and finally getting into the actual gym it was so busy that basically no machines or floor spaces were free. “It hasn’t been quite that bad since,” she admitted, “but I do now make sure not to go at all in the evenings.”
It was “pretty much like a one-in, one-out policy at a club”
“At peak time (5-6pm) we have had to unfortunately temporarily restrict entry into the Russell Seal Fitness Centre,” Fry explained. This had only happened on three evenings, he continued – and the restrictions were “a temporary measure, with customers being asked to wait no longer than 10 minutes.” He apologised to members who had been inconvenienced by this, clarifying: “we have not turned anyone away, all have where possible been offered alternative training options.”
These included opening up the Athlete Development Centre, Strength and Conditioning gym, providing 30 extra training spaces. Members have also been offered free circuits sessions on a Monday and Thursday at 5:15pm.
But the alternatives weren’t welcomed by all members – who argue the gym should not take on more members than it can handle. “As with all gyms, their entire business model is based around assumptions,” third year Sports Sciences student Richard Johnson told Exeposé. “They literally count on people not showing up”
“their entire business model is based around assumptions”
“Overcrowded classes are the reason I stopped my gym membership,” another student added. “I don’t want to pay so much money to be in a class where I can’t even do the moves without worrying I’m gonna whack someone else!”
Students have spoken of having to plan their day around gym availability. “The gym is basically full during lunchtime, and then again it’s even more packed in the evenings,” explained second year Law student Christopher Grozdoski. “So I have to plan to go early in the morning.”
“Most people can only go after 5pm,” Johnson added, “but then it becomes so busy you can hardly move.”
The gym is “super overcrowded,” one third year Maths student just returning from her workout told Exeposé. “Literally every single bench downstairs was in use today,” she said. “People are doing their weightlifting on the floor because there’s no room on the mats.”
The gym is “super overcrowded”
“You end up having to change your workout a lot to fi t around people,” she explained. Adding that the downstairs gym is “very male-dominated,” she said: “a lot of the girls I’ve spoken to have said there’s not enough space upstairs, but they don’t want to go downstairs because they’re too intimidated.”
“I think what they’re hoping for is that after January, everything will calm down and go back to normal,” she said. “They don’t see it as too much of an issue – but so many people in there have said it’s busier than they’ve ever seen it.”
“The guys who work in there are lovely,” she said. “It’s a great place, but at the moment it’s just overcrowded.”
Fry was keen to emphasise what the centre has been doing to improve issues of overcrowding. As well as investing in new equipment, the team has “reorganised the equipment to try and create an easier flow and heighten experience for our members,” he said. Opening hours at St Luke’s Sport Centre have also been extended.
Meanwhile the gym is working with iExeter to introduce live updates on how busy the centre is, so students can plan visits accordingly. “We plan for this to go live in the next couple of weeks,” Fry said. In a further piece of “fantastic news,” Fry revealed: “in recognition of the growing demand for the facilities the University has committed through its Capital Investment Strategy an extension to the Russell Seal Fitness Centre.”
“the University has committed [an extension] through its Capital Investment Strategy an extension to the Russell Seal Fitness Centre”
The plans are still in the very early stages, he explained – and the University hopes to release more information soon. This January, the gym has seen a boost in membership numbers slightly outstripping those of January 2016. “The drive has been for more Gym Memberships rather than Pay-as-you-go,” Fry said, “which has translated to more regular gym users.” But even without overcrowding, the gym’s high membership fees offer little value for money, some members have claimed. Students who join in September can currently choose to split their fees (£314 for inclusive memberships, £250 for gym-only) into two separate payments. Meanwhile staff, alumni and external users can choose to set up monthly direct debits – something unavailable to students.These limited payment options mean the gym “becomes totally unaffordable for many students,” Johnson said.
Between this and the £24 ‘pay as you go’ membership with added costs per use, “access to the gym becomes financially impossible,” he added. “The standard membership is just plain extortion.”
Fitness at Exeter: The Stats
5,673 student members are currently enrolled at Russell Seal.
This is 216 more student members than the gym had this time last year.
This year, students pay £314 for all-inclusive usage from September…
…£209 from 9 January…
…£157 from 20 February…
…and £105 from 1 May.