31 July 2020
I want to let you have a further update on the work that your Board, and the Club’s manager, Paul, and his team have been undertaking since my last communication. We receive regular e-mails from members, some of which raise questions, and so I will also take this opportunity to answer the most frequently asked questions.
The Board has continued its programme of monthly meetings throughout the period of closure, conducted by conference call. Responsibility for the running of the Club lies with the Board, which currently comprises me and five other members, who have a range of areas of expertise, and give their time voluntarily. We are a club, run by members for members on a not for profit basis. That affects the decisions we make, and I know that I speak for all Board members when I say that we take our responsibilities very seriously. We want to see the Club open again as soon as possible, and not only survive but flourish. That must be done of course while observing the health and safety of our members and staff, and our responsibilities to our staff more generally. We are also acutely aware that one of our greatest assets – our beautiful building – needs to be maintained.
Re-opening – when?
The question everyone is asking, of course, is when will the Club be open again? It is very frustrating for us all, particularly as we see other activities and businesses being permitted to open, that gyms and pools appear to be receiving very low priority. We have been undertaking a programme of lobbying – to try to make our very good case to the relevant authorities. We have been in touch with the First Minister, and with all the MSPs for the Lothians. Many have looked favourably on our position and are taking the issue up with the relevant Government departments. However, the First Minister has signalled that gyms and pools remain “low priority” because of the “special risks” they present, and in her briefing today she has indicated that they will be permitted to re-open in the middle of September, unless infection rates remain low, in which case that date may be brought forward to the end of August. We will therefore prepare for the best-case scenario that the Club will be permitted to welcome members by the end of August.
Re-opening – plans
I mentioned in my last communication that we had trialled an on-line booking system. Paul and his team have detailed plans worked up, covering every aspect of the Club’s operations which we will convey to members as soon as we have the firm date for pools and gyms being permitted to re-open.
I have explained previously the actions which the Board has taken to reduce the Club’s outgoings during closure. One of the actions has been to take advantage of the Government furlough scheme. Staff members not required to maintain the plant and building have been placed on furlough. The scheme pays 80% of the furloughed staff’s wages. The Board took the decision to “top up” wages to 100%. Our staff are paid at or near to the minimum wage and we considered this was the “right thing to do” – to support them for as long as we are able. By doing so we hope to retain staff loyalty and enable a swift and smooth transition to the Club’s re-opening once we resume business as usual again. Furloughed staff will be brought back to work on a phased basis, to carry out deep cleaning, make the necessary arrangements for opening, and receive training in the new procedures that we will require to operate. This will be done in as cost effective a way as possible.
Maintenance and refurbishment works
During the closure, we have taken the opportunity to carry out some works within the building. I want to assure members that the Board has been as prudent as you would expect in deciding what works to progress. We are lucky to have had the services of Board member Tony Vettraino, who has carried out his own programme of painting works – such as the toilets, shoe locker area and more – at no expense to the Club, other than materials. I am sure that members will join with me in thanking him for his time. Prior to lock-down the Board had approved the re-tiling and refurbishment of the poolside shower area. This work was initially put on hold, but the decision was taken in June to proceed with these much-needed works, which would otherwise require closure of that area of the Club. In addition, the pool handrail brackets at the deep end, which required lowering of the water levels in the pool, have been replaced. Again, such work would have caused disruption and closure of the pool had we been open. The Board felt that members would not wish, after such a long period of enforced closure, to see a further closure within the year to allow these works to be undertaken.
Our Club is not like a national chain of gyms, but rather more like a local golf club. The gym chains have been able to suspend subscriptions during the enforced period of closure, due to their operating model and, I assume, insurances available to them. Not for profit clubs like ours have not. A few members have cancelled their monthly payments, but the Board has been very gratified by the overwhelming loyalty of members in continuing to pay subscriptions. Those members who have stopped payment are taken to have resigned and will not automatically be re-admitted to membership. We are fortunate that, prior to lock-down, the Club was on a strong financial footing and the Manager and Board have done everything possible to reduce costs during the closure. We therefore anticipate, as I have alluded to, that once the full impact of the closure is known, with the benefit of the contributions we will receive from the furlough scheme and the cost saving measures that we have implemented, we will be able to offer members a reduction on subscriptions for 2021. To manage expectations, while this will not be a full refund of subs for the period of closure, due to ongoing costs I would hope that it will represent a significant sum.
I hope that this communication has been helpful and answered any questions you might have had. I also hope that the next time I write will be to tell you about the opening of the Club again. In the meantime, on behalf of the Board and the staff I once again thank members for their ongoing support, not least financially. We are an historic club, with a beautiful building and unique community, and I am pleased that we are all working together to ensure its continued existence.