Today we welcome back Polina Liu as our guest writer. She has been investigating the recent controversy over Southwark introducing licence fees for personal trainers to train people outdoors. Here’s her story.
Health, fitness and wellbeing is a trend that is here to stay. People all over the planet are seeing the results of reduced activity and an unbalanced diet in their own and their children’s health. Many are taking steps to make changes. Getting moving outdoors is the first step anyone can take! More and more people get out walking, jogging, playing sports, exercising. Coupled with some guidance, advice and support from experts in exercise, getting active changes lives.
Licence for fitness
Groups and individuals exercising in our local parks have become a familiar sight. It is great on many levels: it is encouraging – anyone of any age and ability can keep active, seeing all these people enjoying their local facilities brings up the community spirit, and it is very motivational! Many consider joining a local bootcamp or a running group. But not many people know that training outdoors is regulated, causing controversy amongst the trainers and public alike.
Many London councils now charge personal trainers and fitness companies a license fee for using parks. Councils also make sure that “Fitness operators hold appropriate qualifications (based on industry best practice), are fully insured and hold liability for participant’s safety”.
“…I think if you’re a professional PT and do train clients outdoors, then the fee is nothing. I’d be happy to pay it…”
Free (but prove it)
The confusion starts for everyone when fit-looking individuals are found exercising in the park together with somebody taking charge. Especially if the park is small and the exercising group is big. Is the group led by a fitness professional? Are they paying clients or family members and friends? Can wardens or community support officers judge by observation and establish whether payment is involved?
Asha Budhu, Media Officer for Southwark Council, explains: “A licence is not required as long as there is no charge being applied. Approval by the park manager is required in terms of agreeing frequency and location of activity.”
I am a personal trainer myself, training clients in their home or at private studios. Suddenly with these requirements, a Sunday morning yoga session in the park with friends doesn’t seem such a great idea. How am I to prove they are not paying me for the session? By bringing a picnic along and reserving a space?
“…Southwark apologised for no consultation and promised one for this year but instead raised prices again without consultation…”
Some personal trainers disagree with the fees. They say parks are public places, that 1-to-1 sessions do not get in anyone’s way. It doesn’t make sense for these PTs to pay up for licenses for occasional park sessions but there’s no pay-as-you-go option available. And registration with council is just too long-winded and complex. It’s just not worth the time and effort!
Asha Budhu responds, “Southwark actively encourages residents to keep fit in our parks, and we offer free licenses to anyone running free fitness classes. The use of licenses is important so that we can ensure classes are run safely and do not negatively impact on other park users’ enjoyment. The License fees are only charged to commercial businesses charging their own customers and fees are used to help fund the inevitable additional wear and tear on the park; for all others who operate for free, the license is free.”
Hassan El-Barbary, a local PT and the owner of The London Fit Club thelondonfitclub.com uses a studio for his clients but would be happy to pay the annual licence fee: “PTs who use outdoor space profit from it, which is great… I think if you’re a professional PT and do train clients outdoors, then the fee is nothing. I’d be happy to pay it.”
Anthony Mayatt of Breath Fitness PT breathefitness.uk.com has a different point of view: ” I refuse to pay for a licence here (in Southwark) but I do in the Royal parks. I don’t agree with the price charged (in Southwark) at all. If it were a very small fee to cover maintenance, then fine but the council confirmed to me it is all for the money. I met the council last year over these licenses as they introduced them without consultation. Southwark apologised for no consultation and promised one for this year but instead raised prices again without consultation. I am planning to bring back my bootcamp and reluctantly pay monthly for a licence but am very annoyed at the lack of communication from the council and their Head of Parks and Open Spaces.”
“…not many people know that training outdoors is regulated, causing controversy amongst the trainers and public alike…”
Getting it right
Overall the licensing arrangements seem to have failed to listen to local people directly affected by their introduction and so to have not been thought through properly. Although a registration scheme benefits the public looking for a good trainer, the licensing process needs to be simple. A fast-track application process would encourage PTs to register and then purchase pay-as-you-go licences as and when they are needed, working to their clients’ needs, giving people more choice about who to train with and raising more money for the Council. The same is true for free licences; gaining approval from the park manager works for events planned several months in advance but it’s nuts for impromptu sessions with friends and family!
Southwark Council say that the application process takes a maximum of four weeks. When asked if there are any plans to encourage small local businesses to run fitness activities in the parks, they said they have no plans at the moment. However they were open to further discussion on this.
Hassan El-Barbary – thelondonfitclub.com
Asha Budhu – Media Officer, Southwark
T: 020 7525 7957 E: firstname.lastname@example.org