It took muscle to revamp city gym as lockdown gloom gave way to renovation drive
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With gyms strictly out of bounds for long months of lockdown, a spot of heavy lifting would seem like no great chore to lads who love to pump iron.
Rather than their usual weights workouts, though, Jack Gunn and Dean Sutherland had to direct all muscle power into a comprehensive £30,000 building refurbishment.
As new co-owners of The Forge gym, at Carsegate Road in Inverness, they knew they had taken on a business renowned for first-class kit, but in need of a bit more TLC.
Rather than get maudlin at the difficulties inherent in closure so early in their business tenure, they set about energetically using the time at what was usually a 24-hour frequented fitness centre as an opportunity, rather than a hindrance.
The temporary absence of customers allowed the pair to launch head first into the project with some impressive results, the bulk of work completed by themselves.
Some of that meant learning on the job, although Mr Sutherland (28) has trade experience and contacts as a plumbing and heating engineer. Mr Gunn (25), who is a business change manager with power company SSE, explained how it came together.
“Dean and I were both regulars at The Forge for a couple of years and it was going to close, before we put together our 50-50 buyout,” he said.
“Louise Cooper, who is now our manager and full-time presence for 40 hours a week, had been a member since it opened 11 years ago.
“We took it over in September, just before the first lockdown ended.
“We decided the one positive of the second lockdown was the chance to do work that would, otherwise, be very difficult as a 24-hour gym.
“Through Dean’s business, we had the tools and contacts to do the work ourselves, although we needed contractors for the roof-sealing repairs, some of the flooring and damp treatment. Most of the heavy, not so glamorous work we did ourselves.
“In the end, we’ve managed to get about 18 months of work done since January!”
Before lockdown, The Forge had 320 members, who were offered a freeze in payments, given the Covid-related enforced closure. Many declined, contributing generously to the transformation they will witness on the April 26 reopening.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” Mr Gunn said. “We haven’t really lost many members.
“People have been amazingly supportive and kept on paying. That really enabled us to press on with the work.”
What regulars will find on their return, should delight. The first impact will be new signage and external tidying and roof-sealing work. A greatly-improved reception hallway, previously “a bit of a mess”, has lost the water-stained red carpeting.
There is now a plush new colour scheme of blue and black floor coverings, paintwork, new bathrooms, handrails and ramps, LED signs, new oak doors, and even a breakfast bar area for socialising. It is also a base for Highland Supplement Centre.
“It is now a far more clean and contemporary-looking place to be,” Mr Gunn said.
“The breakfast bar was a big thing for us. People can sit and chat or chill out, rather than go straight onto the gym floor.
“The office was a bit dingy and unprofessional before, but it now presents the business in the best possible light.”
A partition wall was knocked down to create 50sq m of gym floor space, with old changing rooms and cleaning cupboards removed.
Old flooring raised on joists with sunken mats was ripped out, with a major lifting effort for the heavy kit. A cool, colour coordinated Tuff Tile flooring system finishes it neatly – a UK first for a gym, they believe.
“The whole flow is just so much more modern. While the actual building was dated, the gym has always had the best kit, but we’re adding to it,” Mr Gunn said.
The challenge now is to grow the gym, while retaining that new appeal.
“We’re aiming to expand to 400 members by the end of the year, but if it happens, we’ll grow the premises with it. That’s our pledge to all our members,” he added.
• Jack Gunn is an expert panellist on Highland News and Media’s new health and fitness podcast, Health and Lift Ness. Listen to episode one on our website.