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Council-owned gym accused of ‘excluding older and disabled people’

21 Dec 2023 5 minute read
Image: Unsplash

Richard Evans Local Democracy Reporter

A woman in her sixties says a refurbished council gym excludes older people and those with disabilities.

Jude Traharne was referred to Club Rhuthun by her GP in the summer when she was diagnosed with osteoporosis and two slipped discs.

Jude, 61, from Ruthin, was told by her doctor that controlled exercise would help her condition improve, and she was referred at a subsidised rate to the Denbighshire Leisure Ltd gym.


Denbighshire Leisure Ltd, owned by Denbighshire County Council, refurbished Ruthin’s leisure centre in the autumn with new gym equipment.

But Jude, a filmmaker and former CEO of Age Connects North Wales Central, says the new refurbished gym isn’t user-friendly for people who aren’t ‘stacked’.

Denbighshire Leisure Ltd and said the new Club Rhuthun installation follows the successful blueprint of Club Nova, Club Rhyl, X20, and Club Denbigh. They said that they had received “fantastic feedback from current and new members about our GP referral programme in all of our clubs, and our teams have done a brilliant job transitioning people onto the new equipment”.

Jude said: “I was really shocked to find the gym I had been referred to by my GP for my conditions had changed almost overnight with no consultation,

“I was referred by my GP because I was diagnosed with osteoporosis and slipped discs. It means your bones start to become crumbly, so you have to be very careful about what you lift. But one of the things that’s good for osteoporosis is weightlifting in a very controlled way, and having two slip discs, the last thing you want to do is bend down and lift heavy objects.

“I must say the staff were great. They took their time with me and got me on the machines, and I was making great progress. I was really feeling the benefits. We were told it was going to be refurbished and we couldn’t go for a week, and then I went back, and I was heartbroken.

“On the old system the equipment had pulleys and weights, and all you had to do was sit back and select a button, which then loads 20 or 40 kilos. There was no bending down or transporting weights between machines. The new machines required you to lift the weights on and off yourself.

“What I was faced with was a gym that looked like it was predominantly fit for 30-year-old men. A lot of the cardio equipment had gone to make floor space for this new regime.”

Equality commissioner

Jude emailed the leisure centre in mid-November and again this week, asking for a copy of the equality impact assessment and evidence that disabled people and those with extra physical needs had been consulted before the equipment was changed.

Her latest email, sent this week, copied in several county councillors, but Jude says she is yet to hear back but vowed to take the matter to the equality commissioner.

“The new ethos behind this new equipment apparently is to encourage people to pick up weights and move them around the gym. And that’s fine if you are muscular and 30 and can pick up a heavy weight and put it on a machine. But I was thinking how do I lift up 30 kilos?” she said.

“I could end up in hospital. But the worst thing is you might have a guy who is stacked who has loaded a machine with 40 kilos. So in order for me to use that machine, I would have to lift the weights off. That’s bonkers. It is insane. How would I even do that? I’m angry. I saw lots of people of different sizes and shapes at the gym, working out with smiles on their faces, people who are overweight or body conscious, people my age.

“But the gym now seems empty of people who look like me and full of people who look stacked. If you think about it legally, I don’t know that they’ve done an equality impact assessment. Anyone who doesn’t do an assessment under the equality regulations could be breaking the law.”

Jamie Groves is the managing director of Denbighshire Leisure Ltd and said: “The new Club Rhuthun installation follows the successful blueprint of Club Nova, Club Rhyl, X20, and Club Denbigh, and we pride ourselves on the quality of our equipment which is sector leading and trailblazing, and the support that our teams provide to our members is exceptional.

“We’ve had fantastic feedback from current and new members about our GP referral programme in all of our clubs, and our teams have done a brilliant job transitioning people onto the new equipment.

“We provide an exclusive exercise referral programme at DLL, going above and beyond to ensure our members are given the best inclusive and accessible sessions across all of our sites, and this is always reflected in any site refurbishment. The kit we have invested is the best on the market for people of all abilities, and we’re proud of our first class offer at DLL, one that you won’t find in any other gym in the country.”

He added: “We will not comment on an individual person’s membership; however, we encourage them to get in touch to discuss their needs further, as we are always happy to help, and we will always help people to transition onto the new equipment within the gym. We respect anyone who wants to go elsewhere for fitness as it’s personal choice, but we are always here for them if they ever need guidance or support in the future.”

Denbighshire County Council were contacted for a comment.

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5 months ago

I believe in the health and fitness sector they call this ‘barriers to participation’. Ludicrous for a leisure centre. Here’s an additional method to resolving it. Go there, select the equipment you want to use and then tell the staff to stand there and set it up for you. See how quickly they put measures in place to make it accessible then.

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