Using public space to train clients for outdoor fitness classes has become a minefield. Every council, parish and landowner has different rules, and what you think is a public space may actually be private land. If you’re a personal trainer or fitness instructor looking to hold classes in public parks and spaces, then the following guide should help you navigate these new rules and regulations.
The introduction of fees for using public spaces is relatively new. The Royal Parks only introduced its charge back in January 2013 and Hammersmith and Fulham also introduced a yearly fee in 2011. It’s not just the London Boroughs that have begun to charge, though. Brighton and Hove council has implemented a voluntary fee, while most northern councils have yet to implement any charges.
The Royal Parks, which look after iconic spaces such as Richmond Park, St James’s Park and Green Park, said those looking to use the parks for personal training or group fitness sessions must be licensed.
“We license operators to ensure that the parks are protected; [that] access to and use of public open space is preserved for all visitors; [that] park visitors can benefit from, enjoy and engage in fitness training in a variety of outdoor environments; [and to ensure] fitness operators hold appropriate qualifications (based on industry best practice), are fully insured and hold liability for participants’ safety,” its website states.
Both Hammersmith and Fulham and Brighton and Hove councils cite similar reasons for levying a charge.
Why use public spaces for training?
Personal trainers like to use public outdoor spaces as many believe there are benefits to working with their clients outdoors. Tom Wheelhouse, personal trainer and nutritional advisor for Mightify, based in Kingston-upon-Thames and Richmond, is a passionate advocate of outdoor fitness.
“We all spend a lot of time indoors and sitting down, so I really believe in the benefits of being outdoors in fresh air and sunlight,” he said. “It also provides much-needed vitamin-D, which is important given the huge number of people in the UK that are vitamin-D deficient.”
Of course, health benefits are not the only reasons PTs like to use public spaces for training clients. Mathew Lewis-Carter, a PT for mobile personal training company Kudos Fitness in South West London, explains why he uses outdoor space.“There are two main reasons for using outdoor space rather than a gym facility,” he said. “Firstly, rental costs for PTs in central London can be anything upwards of £1,000 a month just to use the gym. You have to put in a certain amount of hours before you break even. Secondly, HIIT training (high intensity interval training) is growing in popularity, which can all be done away from the gym.”
The rise of outdoor fitness classes
Outdoor fitness has gained popularity and that seems to be leading to some councils to charge for using public spaces. But what has led to this surge in outdoor fitness?
“I think social media has definitely had an impact on training outdoors. There is a lot of focus on Instagram with getting outside and this can be infectious,” said Wheelhouse.“Gyms in London can also be pricey and extremely busy, but there’s a certain sense of tranquillity when training outdoors too. For example, training on Wandsworth Park by the Thames as the sun is rising takes some beating. I’d choose that over a crowded, noisy gym any day of the week.”
One of the main reasons councils say they have introduced these licences is to professionalise the industry and encourage insurance and professional registration. PTs and those organising group exercise in public spaces must have Public Liability insurance and some insist that PTs are registered with a recognised industry association like CIMSPA or UK Active.
Hammersmith & Fulham Council has gone as far to state on its website that it brought in the licensing to root out cowboys and protect qualified PTs.
“It certainly safeguards reputable, qualified, insured PTs and removes the cowboys that operate substandard sessions. As I’m sure you understand, we must have procedures in place to balance commercial activity in the parks. Simply allowing anyone to run a business from the parks does not safeguard the users or the parks’ future,” the council said.
While the licensing system has made being a PT a little more bureaucratic, Wheelhouse has not found dealing with the councils too difficult.
“In general I’ve found the process pretty straightforward, although not always cheap. There are plenty of forms to fill in, but it’s manageable,” he said.
Some PTs have even been prosecuted. Royal Parks took PT Alexi Ajavon to court when he was caught using Primrose Hill to train his clients in 2013. He ended up being fined.
However, not everyone put up with these kinds of charges. Simon Desborough, from boot camp fitness company Triumph Wellbeing in East Anglia, stopped using one of his local parks after the parish council started charging.
“Over the past couple of years I have used two different parks in two different towns,” said Desborough. “I stopped using the first one because the local parish council were looking to impose a charge. It would not have been financially viable to pay this, as they were only morning classes so numbers were quite low. The second park wasn’t looking to charge, but had an awful problem with worms.”
Simon now uses a local field owned by a family member, which he does pay a small fee for.
Top tips for running outdoor fitness classes in public spaces
1) Before you start holding sessions or classes in public spaces, find out who owns the space and whether you need a licence. Tom Wheelhouse recommends doing your research. “You might think that no one will check you’ve got the right permit, but trust me, they will!” This is especially true if the ‘public space’ is owned by a private company, which is increasingly the case.
2) Respect the space: public spaces are for everyone to enjoy.
3) Use its potential: some parks now have outdoor gym equipment and they have plenty of natural features which can help provide effective and varied sessions.
Whether you teach in a gym or outside in a public space, you will need insurance that covers you for Public Liability, Professional Indemnity and equipment mishaps. Insure4Sport is here to offer specialist insurance for personal trainers to ensure that you and your clients have peace of mind.
*images provided by Kudos Fitness