2020 has undoubtedly been a challenging year for all. A global pandemic was something no instructor had or could plan for and the shockwaves have been felt throughout the group exercise world.
At short notice, instructors were forced to stop their studio and outdoor classes, and no-one could return to any leisure facility they were a part of. Loss of income, job insecurity and no clarity of direction were felt by all.
Since March 2020, we have strived to support and guide instructors through the unusual times we find ourselves in. We released information to over 10,000 instructors on our social media channels, signposting them to information such as the self-employed income support scheme. Our Friday update emails, packed with guidance and opportunities for instructors, have been digested by over 6,000 instructors and that number continues to grow.
The strength of group exercise instructors lies in the name; they are a group, a family, a community. Early into lockdown, instructors across the country came together online to work out how they could continue their work in keeping the nation active without leaving the house. Many set up classes in their living rooms, ensuring their participants’ needs were not forgotten. Many opted for online catch ups and coffee mornings, making sure their communities’ mental health and social interactions continued. The work of these instructors cannot be underestimated; to keep going when the world is against you is no mean feat.
However, this wasn’t the end for barriers. Instructors quickly found that the playlists their classes knew and loved became problematic in the online environment; licencing law was not in their favour. As any instructor knows, the music you choose can make or break a group exercise experience. The licencing issue we one we set out to solve. We launched into dialogue with PRS for Music, seeking answers for the group exercise community. After 140,000 artists, songwriters, and music publishers agreed, the online fitness music licence was launched, ensuring instructors could legally play copyrighted and original artist music on their online classes. Within a few days of launch, one instructor said “Just would like to say thank you for the music licence. It has already made a big difference in class numbers to me.”
Living rooms and conservatories aren’t the natural settings for classes. What’s the best lighting, where should I put the laptop, how to connect the audio . . . the list of questions in this new territory mounted. There are a wealth of experts in the industry who made these questions easy to answer. Instructors were guided to the Sound Dynamics team for all their AV questions and needs, whilst Richard Playfair of Sweatlife Films was on hand with tips on lighting, video production, and creating the best online experience. Our own Group Ex Support Pack was downloaded by thousands of instructors, eager to read information on how to use Facebook for business, how to get the best out of Instagram, and risk assessment templates for online classes.
As lockdown restrictions were eased, the world did not look the same. We were introduced to social distancing, queuing for shops, and not being able to visit more than one person a day. Soon, groups of up to six were allowed to meet in England whilst other home nations were left behind. This then become 30 people in Wales with no movement on the rest of the UK. The disparity across the home nations left many instructors frustrated and confused about what they could and could not do.
It’s important to remember that this year is unlike any other anyone has experienced. Scientists, Governments, and the world are still learning about COVID-19. As such, advice and guidance changes as new developments emerge. Since March, we have been in a constant dialogue with Government, who release information without consultation within industries. Our job has been to quickly analyse the information alongside CIMSPA and Sport England, and then work with the Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to improve the situation for fitness instructors. Our dialogue made possible the increase of numbers in England from six to 30, allowing more instructors to run financially viable classes and return to some normality.
We understand updates do not come without frustration. We understand it does not make planning classes and running your business easy. However, we know you can appreciate the need for such caution and adjustment right now. Our industry and the bodies within it are working with the information that is available, putting the health and safety of both instructors and participants at the heart of all guidance.
We have provided updated information for instructors to ensure they have the best opportunity to run their business. Our Return to Play guidance, released in late July, outlined how instructors could run their classes outdoors and in studios within appropriate social distancing and health and safety measures. Of course, as new information emerged, that was soon updated, and all instructors were kept in the loop. At time of publishing, over 5,000 fitness professionals from across the industry have downloaded our Return to Play Guidance.
No doubt more things will change, guidance will be updated, but group exercise instructors will remain resilient. You will continue to adapt to changes and continue to serve your communities, giving them the best possible access to physical activity.
At EMD UK, we’re not going anywhere. We will continue to support and fight for group exercise instructors. We will continue to guide the industry and have the challenging conversations that need to be had. We will continue to work for you.
From the team at EMD UK, we thank you for staying with us through this time and we thank you for keeping the nation active.