'I'm facing fines of £67,000 for keeping my gym open during Lockdown'

Keeping my doors open was the responsible thing to do to protect the health of our members

Andreas Michli outside his gym in Wood Green
Andreas Michli outside his gym in Wood Green

When the first lockdown came around, I did the responsible thing and shut down the gym I own in Wood Green, North London. I was worried about the virus, as everyone was when we knew so little about it.

The second time around, things were different, and I realised that if you want to protect the NHS, you should keep the gyms open. They are an essential service. 

So I broke the rules of the second lockdown, and kept my doors open. I knew I had made the right decision when I saw our members queueing around the block to get in. 

The council and the police disagreed, and fined me £67,000, and ordered me to pay £9,000 in costs.

In the first lockdown, things were very different. We didn’t have enough information about the different levels of the threat posed by, say, gyms versus pubs, so I thought that closing my gym was the socially responsible thing to do. I shut the doors of Zone Gym for four months and didn’t budge at all, even when my members were begging me to let them in. 

We opened the minute gyms were allowed to on July 25, with new hygiene procedures. We went above and beyond what the Government were asking for: we installed extra ceiling fans, ventilation, and UV lights that kill viruses. There’s hand sanitiser everywhere, and we limited numbers to make sure everyone could have enough space at all times. 

People came pouring back in, delighted that we were open again. It’s not a surprise, in a way. The gym is not just a place to get fit for our members, it’s an absolutely essential part of their lifestyle, identity and health. 

We have around 1,200 people who come here regularly, and it’s a real mix of people from professional bodybuilders to people recovering from major surgery. 

When people were coming back in after the first lockdown I could really notice the impact that four months without coming to the gym had had. The professional bodybuilders had lost a lot of muscle – home workouts with tins of beans instead of dumbbells really won’t cut it for them – and everyone seemed so dispirited. 

I know how crucial our gym is for people’s sense of community – just ask our dozen or so members who are out-patients from the mental hospital who come here as part of their recovery. 

One member comes to us as part of her recovery after surgery. Doctors have told her she needs to cycle on a static, not outdoor, bike every day to keep her hip joint healthy. So if we shut the gym – then what? She can’t afford an exercise bike for her own house, so is she meant to just skip part of her medically necessary treatment? That makes absolutely no sense. 

The reality is that at-home workouts just aren’t possible for everyone. This is especially true since many of our members live in small flats in London. Space is tight, and you don’t want to make too much noise for the neighbours. One of our members has even been issued a warning by his landlord, telling him that if he doesn’t stop working out in his flat he’ll be evicted. What’s he meant to do?

Now we’re coming into winter I’m thinking particularly about our female members. It’s easy enough to say that we can just take some resistance bands to the park and work out there, but it gets dark before 5 o’clock now, and many women don’t feel safe exercising outside in the dark. 

This will have a massive impact on the sanity of our members – as well as their ability to fight the virus. We know how crucial keeping fit is to our immune system, so why are we discouraging people from exercising?

In the first lockdown, the socially responsible option was for me to shut. The second time around, the socially responsible option is for me to stay open. I can’t put the health of my members at risk by closing.

I disobeyed the law and kept my doors open for seven days after the second lockdown began. The police and council response was mad. There were several visits a day, and at one point there were dozens of police officers barricading the entrance and stopping people from entering. 

But despite it all, the members kept coming. They were queueing around the block to get in. Even when the police were blocking the entrance, about 15 of them managed to climb over walls to get inside. 

Their dedication to getting in here shows you all you need to know about how important this gym is to their welfare. 

Now I’ve been forced to close by a court order. I will appeal the fines, which are just so completely wrong and unethical. 

Until then, I’m just waiting out the rest of the lockdown until we can reopen. At one minute past midnight on December 3, our doors will reopen. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are queues to get in. 

As told to Helen Chandler-Wilde