Uncertain future for Wirral’s dance studios as Tier 3 lockdown looms

When gyms and health facilities on the Wirral were given the green light to reopen in July, the news offered a slither of hope to Feelin’ Peachy, a pole dancing studio in Bromborough.

Three months on, and “tier three” coronavirus restrictions are due to be implemented across all areas of the Liverpool City Region tomorrow, including Wirral. 

As a result,  Peach Lee Ray, the owner of the Feelin’ Peachy pole dancing studio in Bromborough, is now trying to balance out the need to keep her business going, while keeping her students safe. 

Now facing closure, Peach is speaking out against the decision to shut down gyms and dance studios in the region.

Peach Lee Ray founded Feelin’ Peachy in 2018, in a bid to promote self-confidence, body positivity, and holistic support for citizens across the borough (Image credit: Mark Lycett)

Peaches said: “We are a body-inclusive space that supports people of all genders to embrace themselves, improve their self-confidence, and challenge them to love themselves more deeply and powerfully.

“We have helped many, many people – particularly women – to achieve incredible things. We have given them an outlet that allows them to deal with mental health issues. But today, we found out we will have to close down again as of Wednesday. We have only had four people in each class, and many students have commented we are the only place they feel safe to go anymore.

“We are a lifeline, and that lifeline is being pulled out from them.”

Peaches concerns are timely ones. Following Boris Johnson’s address to the nation yesterday, the Prime Minister announced a new three-tier local lockdown system in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Regions are placed into one of three lockdown types of lockdown depending on the rate of infection in their area: medium, high, or very high.

The Liverpool City Region has become the first area in the UK to be categorised under “very high” lockdown measures.  

With an average infection rate of 670 people during the first week of October, government and council officials have ordered the closure of several public venues from Wednesday onwards.

Still, the decision to close gyms comes as a surprise to many. Once opened to the public in July, gyms have become a place of solace for residents across the borough. Furthermore, even after opening, gyms and dance studios are now required by law to comply with strict social distancing guidelines.

This involved restricted facility access, spaced out equipment, reduced class sizes, timed booking systems, enhanced and rigorous cleaning procedures and adequate ventilation.

A report released by Active UK suggested that while 22 million visits to gyms and studios have been made since July. Of that number, there have been only 78 confirmed cases of gym-goers developing coronavirus symptoms. This accounts for a transmission rate of around 0.35%.  

Despite this low number, many gyms across the country have made ‘every move’ to ensure they are COVID-secure.

Feelin’ Peachy is no exception to the rule. Until now, the studio has been operating at 40% capacity to keep the studio as COVID-secure as possible.

Feelin’ Peachy is just one of the many dance studios which have been ordered to close under the Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions, due to be implemented tomorrow. (Photo credit: Mark Lycett)

Like many other fitness businesses and studios across the borough, the industry suffered under the strain of the first national lockdown.

Now, as tomorrow’s localised lockdown looms, the decision to shut gyms and studios as part of a “blanket ban” has left hundreds contemplating their finances. 

Peach said: “I think the really heartbreaking thing is that we’ve all worked so hard to ensure that our spaces are COVID safe. Last year, the studio finances were going well, exactly how I imagined it would be in my business plan, with cash flow, forecast and everything. But this year, it has just been completely decimated. 

“The thing is, that’s a government-backed loan as well, and they would not give me a complete holiday; they would just reduce the payments, but I still have to pay the remaining balance. So none of that gets drawn off the table, and I continued paying rent and bills for my studio space, even when it was empty.

“People say, oh you’ll get financial support and grants again – but for me, it’s not just money. It’s the fact that I don’t just run this business for a living. I run it because it’s what I want to do with my life.

“I was saying to my students last night that lockdown feels worse than the last one because the first one was unprecedented, and I was optimistic. Back then, I thought “we will just be closed for a month, and then we will be back open.” I struggled with my mental health during the last one. 

“But this time, when I found out we were going to close again with two days notice, I was just distraught. It’s the impact I want to have on the world, and it’s helping people, the community of people I live within.” 

Earlier today, the leaders of the Liverpool City Region held a press conference with Liverpool’s leading director of public health to discuss tomorrow’s incoming lockdown measures.

There, local leaders raised concerns that businesses across the region will be”hit hard” by the restrictions, as many are already not receiving the support they need to survive financially. 

Yet Cllr Janette Williamson, representing Wirral, said although she was ‘deeply frustrated by the closures’, there was ‘no other option’ but to close gyms.

Optimism is starting to dwindle for fitness professionals like Peach.

Peach said: “I have to believe there is a future after this so that I don’t give up. I know, in the long term, I can be a great success – but this is a significant spanner in the works. For me, and all other fitness professionals out there, you have to stay optimistic because if you don’t, that’s when you give up. 

“I want to thank all the members of the community supporting our gyms and fitness facilities on the borough…but being optimistic does not mean the situation is right or fair; it just means we are doing what we can to get through it. 

“If the government and the NHS understand and see that health is holistic, physical, mental, and that it is important – especially in the midst of this mental health crisis they want to address – then they have to keep the fitness and dance industries open.

It is imperative. If it matters to them, then it will be their top priority.”

April Ryan

Feature and article images used with permission from Mark Lycett.