Why creating an inclusive environment is essential for every club

Paul Ferris is the Managing Director of Speedflex, a company that offers high intensity circuit training “with a difference”. In 2011 Paul set up the business with Sage Software founder Graham Wylie and former Newcastle United and England Captain Alan Shearer. They now have seven studios around the UK and two internationally. In late 2016 they created the Speedflex Pod, a standalone machine which offers the same effective workout, on the gym floor.


We all like to belong. It is an essential element of being human. Life would be a tragically dull and soulless if we all lived as islands isolated from each other. Communicating with no one. No human contact. Never sharing our hopes, fears and dreams with another living soul. Even writing about it gives me a shudder I can feel the isolation, the loneliness, the desperate hopelessness of it all.

All of our lives we search for belonging in everything we do. We yearn to be part of a loving family unit. As children we are desperate to find acceptance from our peer groups. We share our love of music and sport with others, whether participating in a band or a team, or joining other like-minded individuals to form a group of fans or supporters. We join political parties, we go to parties, and hell some of us even attend garden parties!

Yes, a sense of belonging helps define us as human beings. We seek it out at every stage in our lives. If this overwhelming desire to belong to something greater than ourselves is so all pervasive (and countless books and research papers testify that it is) then can it be any surprise that so many people choose to exercise in a group environment rather than alone? A ‘sense of belonging’ is an enormous part of why the nervous individual, the person who is coming back to exercise after a long time away, the older exerciser, the overweight middle aged mum, or the grandad with creaking joints, would all find comfort and security in a small group exercise class.

Yet all too often in our industry we configure our exercise and gym environments to cater for a small cross-section of the population. We choose colours, music, and spaces that scream exclusivity rather than inclusivity. Isolation rather than belonging.   We are getting better, much better, but still too often the very people we want to attract don’t join us, or if they do, they only last for a short time, and when the initial surge of motivation and enthusiasm wanes, they simply drift away again. Lost to us and to the fitness industry forever.

Until we consistently develop our exercise environments with a ‘sense of belonging’ in mind, we will always, in my opinion, fail to truly engage the vast swathes of the community who would ironically benefit the most from the life changing benefits of regular exercise.

Inclusivity is the future.


Posted in Gyms & Clubs, Interviews, The Fitness Network.