New initiative to tackle unwanted attention in gyms

Posted on: Thursday, January 26, 2023

A new scheme is set to launch in Newark to increase feelings of safety for women and girls within fitness centres and gymnasiums.

Unwanted attention such as being watched, followed, unsolicited physical contact and comments on the body have caused 71.5% of women to change their gym routines, according to data.

Attending the gym is a key part of many people's lives so, as part of the Newark Safer Streets project, partners want to ensure fitness facilities are enjoyable and a comfortable spaces for all members.

A collaboration between Newark and Sherwood District Council and Nottinghamshire Police aims to tackle the negative experiences through creating the Safer Gym Group.

It will come from the Safer Streets funding secured by the Police and Crime Commissioner for Nottinghamshire Caroline Henry, which has a large focus on violence against women and girls.

The group will be made up of local gyms who wish to participate in the scheme and they will all receive training on how to support those who may experience unwanted attention or harassment when using their facilities.

To make the initiative as experienced-based as possible, those running the scheme have designed a survey to gather the views of women and their encounters surrounding feelings of safety within gyms.

By filling out the survey, voices can be heard and understood to shape the topics which will be addressed within the training to ensure it will effectively tackle the issues specific to Nottinghamshire.

The survey will be live for two weeks and after which it will be assessed to begin the forward planning of the groups in Newark.

Safer Streets Project Manager and the Safer Gym Group creator, Eleanor Smalley, from Nottinghamshire Police, said: “Exercise is an important part of many people’s lives, it has multiple health benefits and therefore we want to ensure facilities are a comfortable place for everyone to use.

“The survey is a great opportunity to tell us about your experiences within the fitness industry.

“Some women are put off going for a range of reasons and after doing some research into this there are changes we can introduce which are likely to make women feel more comfortable attending and making use of these facilities.”

It follows the success of another similar Safer Streets initiative that has already been launched, called the Safe Spaces scheme, giving local businesses CCTV cameras and staff training in how to support people who come through their doors looking for help.

They display Safe Space signs in their windows to make them visible and give women the peace of mind that help is close if they are ever in need.

The Safer Gym Group will work in a similar way, using signs and merchandise to visibly show women and girls their facility will not tolerate any inappropriate behaviours towards them in a bid to assure any concerns about attending a gym.

Councillor Roger Jackson, Portfolio Holder for Cleaner, Safer, Greener at Newark and Sherwood District Council, said: “Creating a community that our residents can feel safe and secure in is always a top priority and I’m pleased to see the work we have planned, as part of the Safer Streets project, to tackle violence against women coming to fruition.

“We want to work with the community, from the local gyms to the women affected by these issues, to make sure the Safer Gym Group is an effective asset to the local fitness community and the women who are part of it.”

The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Nottinghamshire has so far secured four rounds of Safer Streets funding from the Home Office to pay for initiatives to prevent neighbourhood crime and antisocial behaviour, and violence against women and girls.

The highest sum given to any county area nationally has been given to Nottinghamshire, totally £3m.

With this funding, Nottinghamshire Police and local authorities have worked on projects across Nottingham and Nottinghamshire including new CCTV, Safer Street Wardens, better street lighting, diversionary activity for young people.

Police and Crime Commissioner Caroline Henry said: “I must admit the gym is not my natural stomping ground, but I want every single person who chooses to go to feel safe when they do so.

“Women should always feel comfortable when exercising and I think this scheme is a brilliant way for fitness facilities to show their support to women and girls in need.”

To take part in the survey, click here.