Originally built by the Duke of Bedford in 1897 to house flowers, Covent Garden’s Jubilee Hall was saved from developers by a group of local activists in the 1970s, and first opened its doors as a community sports centre in January 1978.
Within six months of opening, the centre was a roaring success, being used by more than 1000 people per week for team sports, martial arts, trampolining and even roller-discos. But times and tastes have changed. Jubilee Hall, now principally equipped as a gym, competes with private sector chains at all price points, as well as revamped public leisure centres and boutique studios offering the latest classes. Outdoor running and cycling continue to grow in popularity and provide a cheap alternative to gyms, whilst free exercise sessions are even available from local sports retailers. New technology also brings competition of a different sort, with health, fitness and nutrition apps as well as wearable tech enabling consumers to get ‘expert’ advice and to track their activity.
With a gradual decline in membership and income, the Jubilee Hall Trust Board undertook a strategic review and agreed to investigate proposals for a substantial re-investment into the gym in Covent Garden. This investment would seek to maximise the Grade II Listed building’s attributes including its unique location and natural light and to improve the facilities and equipment to create a ‘wow’ factor.
The key requirements of the project were threefold:
• To increase membership, usage and income, to make Jubilee Hall a long-term sustainable and successful business
• To generate sufficient additional surpluses to enable the charity to deliver inclusive programmes based both in the gyms, and outside, with a particular emphasis on key target groups, such as women, the over 60s and those living in the most deprived communities
• To restore Jubilee Hall gym, Covent Garden, to its place as a thriving and iconic Central London community asset, which enables more people to get more active, more often.
The investment would need to be not just in the physical infrastructure (e.g. building, facilities and equipment, re-configuration and adaptation of spaces) but also in intangible infrastructure (e.g. digital solutions, technology), as well as in changes to staffing and training, programming, private hirers and re-branding, pricing and marketing.
As Operations Director, Jon Giles, explains: “We started by considering the customer journey, and that means from their first interaction with us – probably via our website or social media – to when they enter the building, train with us and then leave. We recognised that our digital services needed to be upgraded, and introduced our own Jubilee Hall Trust app to improve customer communication and to simplify class bookings, and have also been re-developing our website to ensure that it is mobile responsive.
“Last July, we introduced virtual classes in our spinning studio and, since then, we have delivered an average of 100 pre-programmed virtual classes per month, whilst almost as many have been user-activated on demand. Importantly, these have been in addition to ‘live’ classes, not as a replacement for them. An added member benefit is the Wellbeats app, which gives access to more than 250 other virtual classes, which they can stream to their own devices such as smartphones, tablets or TVs. This enables them to maintain their exercise regime wherever they are.”
It was also important that members started to see the facility as more than just a gym. To that end, the charity converted some under-used offices into a four-room wellness centre in a quiet part of the club and partnered with Breathe London to operate them. Breathe has already worked with the charity since 2004, and brings together more than 25 independent and entrepreneurial therapists, offering a wide range of mind and body services, from sports massage and physiotherapy to smoking cessation and hypnotherapy.
However, for all these changes, the centre of the club is still the 110-station gym, and some of this equipment needed upgrading. Since October last year, the 18,000ft2 space has boasted more than 80 pieces of the very latest Precor strength equipment, two Queenax functional training units and 25 Precor Spinner Rally bikes.
The install was carried out over just four days, with minimal disruption to customers, and re-establishes the facility as one of the best-equipped fitness spaces in Central London.
Darren Frost, Sales Representative from Precor, said: “The team at Jubilee Hall wanted their equipment investment to attract new members as well as retain existing ones by addressing current industry trends – including functional training and small group exercise – so we supplied a strength and functional equipment blend, to appeal to a broad spectrum of users across the community.
“The unique Queenax functional systems provide the perfect solution, as they maximise the training space within the Covent Garden facility creating multi-use areas, as well as driving exerciser engagement. In addition to this, the broad range of Discovery selectorised and plate-loaded strength equipment will appeal to first-time users and seasoned strength trainers alike.”
Jubilee Hall Club Manager, Oliver Deen, said: “We have always had one of London’s most extraordinary exercise spaces, with a triple-height ceiling and glass roof, but now we also have the latest in high-quality equipment to complete the experience.”
Whilst much has been achieved over the last six months, there is still more to do. The main building infrastructure programme at the heart of the Phoenix Project, is about to start. The next six months will see the realisation of an ambition to create London’s greenest gym.
Chief Executive, Phil Rumbelow, concludes: “Over 100 years ago, Jubilee Hall was a flower market warehouse, so we intend to hark back to that heritage and to create an iconic workout space that nobody else can copy. Imagine training in the Temperate House at Kew or inside the Eden Project! And, of course, our ambition to be green will include using new systems and cutting-edge technology to improve recycling and save power, and even for our gym users to generate enough to put it back into the grid.
“Most importantly, we want to restore Jubilee Hall as an accessible asset for the local community who originally saved it. We plan to offer a number of free memberships for the most disadvantaged residents, and continue to be the only leisure centre in the country with completely free access on Sundays.”