Well! what a year it has been so far, and it isn’t quite over. To say this year has been challenging would be an understatement by a long mile. Lots of people have voiced that we are all in the same boat. I am sure that many of you don’t feel like we are in the same boat, we are certainly in the same storm, but I know without a doubt, that we are all in different boats. At Drummond we thought we would stop the clock for a short period to share with you some of our Covid journey, in the hope that you would see in it, some of your journey and know that like all of you, we have been trying to steer and navigate our boat through every step of the storm. We believe that sharing is a great way to help other people and help ourselves heal and move forward. It is good to read about challenges that like-minded people have faced, so that we can have collective thoughts and support and realise you and us are not alone in any of these challenges.
Firstly, let me tell you a little bit about what I and the royal we do here at Drummond and then later in the article you will see how challenging it has become.
We have 4 arms to what we do!
We have our education courses which many of you are familiar with. These education courses are qualification based and are certificates that instructors need as their base qualifications to work and as a licence to practice. We have a second arm to our business with Hydro-actif. This is our water/aqua workshops for instructors who want to train to teach aqua in the pool. We also have a client facing arm to our business with Drummond Physiotherapy. Like many of you, this is individual client facing for therapy, exercise and personal training. The final arm is that we also offer general exercise. We have exercise classes and an exercise studio. We have a lot going on and wear many hats making navigating through the Covid mind blowing at times. We have a large team of practitioners and trainers who work within our different arms and for the individual members of staff the challenges have been huge.
Enough about what we do, how have we coped? That is the question.
At times we have coped well, and at times not so well. The challenges started quite early in the year for us. We seemed to become very conscious of the Covid pandemic late January into early February, certainly through the impact it had in China and closer to home in Europe particularly Italy and Spain. We watched from a distance and sort of felt a little immune to start with, we had no idea it was going to impact us quite so hard. From around mid-February I think we all knew it would.
Way before lockdown, the government took up the protective mantle and started to tell people to not socialise and visit venues where large numbers of people would be to keep themselves safe. This had a devastating effect on the hospitality industry and the fitness profession, particularly into late February and early March. People started to stay away as they had been advised. The whole industry started to get impacted by this. In our client facing business’s and by second week of March we were experiencing more cancellations a week than bookings a week. People started to stay at home. I am sure many of you were also in this position by mid-March. This was pre lockdown 1 and pre any announcement of support from the government. The position that we found ourselves in was that we were all still working with full business on costs and our income had dropped by over 40%. What do you do in those circumstances? Let me share with you what I and the royal we did.
I HAD A COMPLETE MELT DOWN!
I hold my hand up to having a complete melt down. Did anyone else? I saw everything we had worked for slowly slip away and I felt out of control. What on earth would we do? We had rent to pay, staff wages to pay, all sorts of business costs to pay and good old Boris was telling people to stay away from businesses. Never mind our personal bills and eating and living. It was unreal. I literally fell apart for what seemed like days. I became completely dysfunctional. I could see no solution and could only see the problem looming bigger as the days and weeks passed. When the problem is out of your control, you just feel devastated. You feel vulnerable, helples, isolated and panic driven all at the same time. There I was, commonly looked too as a problem solver, out of control, and with no solution to the problem. A first for me. What I didn’t realise in the early days was that there would be many firsts for the team this year.
Instructors all over the country were having their classes cancelled right left and centre. PT’s were experiencing their clients cancelling existing bookings and not coming in at all for weeks. Gyms were starting to talk about closing their doors, classes were cancelled and the whole industry became vulnerable and chaotic. I am sure you remember this well.
I just broke down and started to think about that fact that our business would probably not survive this, that many of you in the industry would also not survive with your business’s either. Our industry was being decimated and still is in many aspects . I wondered how many of us would lose our homes and income permanently. I felt like many people may despite working hard for their living. I could only meltdown and lose sleep and live in my own personal doom and gloom. My only saving thought was the problem wasn’t one of my making and other people were also affected by the storm so perhaps we could find a collective solution.
I felt an honesty develop amongst us as we all held our hands up to not knowing what to do or how to cope. No one judged each other. Everyone was experiencing the same wonder and amazement and questions. We were all blindsided. We certainly felt battered and bruised.
I remember at this point the hospitality industry, amongst other industry’s taking up the mantle with the government and asking the government to take action rather than make statements that asked people to not come to our business’s and at the same time not offer support for those business’s. By mid-March we were all confused, should we close our doors and send the staff home. We desperately wanted to keep everyone safe but how could we? How would we pay our staff and our bills if we did send everyone home?
Then the matter was taken out of our hands and the government announced the first lockdown on the 21stMarch 2020. We all shut our doors and went home. They also announced ‘Furlough’ but we still didn’t know what that might look like. We met with our team and explained that we would all be dependent on furlough but couldn’t tell them what that might look like. We just didn’t know. Staff left not knowing if they were going to be paid the next month, or what financial benefits they would have. This confusion, and not knowing, seems to have been a theme throughout the last 8 months. This didn’t help my melt down at all. I continued to melt down and went home.
Once in the comfort of home (which I thank the powers above for ever day) I started to calm a little. Furlough was clarified and I breathed a sigh of relief. At least we could pay the staff. One massive relief. We couldn’t pay ourselves as self-employed owners within the company, but as long as our staff were paid that was fine by me. The self-employed, as many instructors are, have not fared quite so well on the grant availability during the whole of this time. We were offered mortgage breaks etc, so we felt we could live on virtually nothing as long as we could pay our staff. Bonus. We were also very lucky with great support from family members and friends. Something we will always be eternally grateful for. I am sure many of you have had the same support from your family and friends. Where would we be without them.
I watched the chaos as many of you in the industry were also in the same position as us. Confusion if you were self-employed as to whether you would be paid or not and If you were would it be enough to live on. Barely for some. The disparity of payments between someone who was employed and the self-employed. 80% of salary to an employed person but only 80% of average profit over the last three years for a self-employed person. Definitely no parity. If the government had said with furlough, we are only going to pay you 80% of what you earned as an average over the last three years that would have seemed madness for an employed person, yet thought acceptable for a self-employed person. Many business’s will have increased their turnover in a three-year period and their profits. I still to this day don’t really understand why in the first furlough it happened that way. It also excluded many of you who only started self-employment in that last year. This to us didn’t appear to be fair. The government learnt from this and in the second furlough at least only included the last years earnings to pay the 80%. Self-employed instructors, like us, felt let down, confused, devalued and much more.
Even employed staff hadn’t had their furlough confirmed by employers at the start of lockdown and many didn’t know if they were going to be paid. Some were made redundant and others asked to take unpaid leave. You all lost your livelihoods overnight in one way or another. My heart went out to all of you in the industry and I sat mesmerised at home wondering what we could do and how we could help.
3 days into the first lockdown and I started to think about how we could prepare for recovery. This was a good sign and my problem-solving head was starting to appear. My philosophy changed overnight. A calmness took over the world. I watched colleagues and friends pivot their business overnight, re-inventing themselves, learning new technologies and carrying on giving to their clients and customers. I was inspired. Every instructor I followed online through Facebook, twitter, Instagram and other platforms were achieving amazing things and learning the hard way to continue working and providing their clients with amazing fitness and wellness programmes. We all learnt new technologies such as face book live and zoom. For many this was on top of home schooling and looking after the children. Never again will we tell the kids they have had too much time on screen.
This inspired us to continue in our work at Drummond. To help develop our new skills we wrote online training programmes including for our children’s fitness programme and for our NEAT Fit Coaching with Dr Paul Batman Phd.. This was a new skill for us so we offered them free to instructors. This was for two reasons, like many of you we wanted to help our clients, you the instructor by giving you a new string to your bow to aid your recovery once allowed to practice again, and the second reason was to test our new skills or rather developing skills. At the end of the day, it could have been really rubbish. How could we charge for that? I know lots of instructors who felt the same and offered their clients free or very low-cost sessions as well as many who pivoted successfully to keeping their earnings strong online. Long hard days and nights were worked by all in the industry as we did this. Hours filming and re-filming, editing, and re-editing. Days merged and most instructors seem to work 14-hour days and 7 days per week.
By offering these free products our Drummond hearts lifted. We shared what we had with other colleagues in the industry and we were suddenly in touch with lots of other instructors all over the world who were sharing and working and inspiring others. Over 800 instructors took part in our free training programmes. I don’t think there was many industry’s like ours were people rallied around to help each other. I was proud to be a fitness instructor. All fitness instructors were sharing and supporting each other and their clients through social media by giving workouts/sessions, advice, mindset help, health and wellness and much more, some free, some paid for. Supporting long standing clients and everyone continued to not only work but work harder than they had ever worked. Social media has been alive with questions from instructors and others helping answer those questions. Even when clarity was lacking.
We all settled into a happy routine of teaching people online, seeing them in their pyjamas, meeting their children and pets. We met people in their homes and got to learn a whole new side to our client’s colleagues and friends. This brought us amazing peace and solidarity. What a time! Add to that the volume of people outside exercising and helping each other locally I believe that we had come together as supportive communities and as friends. There was no judgement and I genuinely feel that we all became nicer to each other.
Fast forward 8 months and here we are. What have we learnt as the months have progressed?
We have learnt to do what matters. In the absence of clarity, can we do this, no we can’t, yes we can! There is no clarity. We have all learnt to take what we can do, whilst we can do it and do it well and with enthusiasm.
We have learnt that everything we do and contribute to matters. We have lived on a knife edge, a roller coaster of information that sometimes we just can’t see our way through. Out of this we have learnt that one door can close overnight, but in the true sense of the proverb, another door can also open.
We have learnt to communicate and inspire with just us in the room, teaching sometimes a screen that is so small that we can’t see who is on the other side. We have learnt that by continuing to do this we are bigger in someone else’s room and heart and that they have loved what we/you have brought them.
We have learnt to use technology and communicate through technology. We have learnt how to move in a small square, how to edit video’s, how to use web cams, microphones, filming lights and much more.
We have learnt to get used to looking at ourselves on screen, even if before that we never wanted too. We have had to get over how we feel about our bodies, our size, our look and we have learnt to be just us.
We have learnt that our clients, who have stayed with us, love us just the way we are.
We have learnt who we can rely and who we cannot. We have learnt to lean on each other and to share and to be honest. We can share our fears openly as we are all in the same storm and for the most, people understand.
We have learnt there is beauty in the outside world and the countryside around us and to use it daily. (I wish the rule of exercising an hour a day would stay).
We have learnt to be creative and inspirational in our approach to fitness and wellness and embrace new technologies that can help our clients. Many instructors will, like us, now keep these new technologies to add to the services they offer.
We have learnt that the loved ones we have missed seeing and the friends we haven’t seen for so long are missed and we will cherish them in the future.
We have survived the worst of it. Some of us did not, and for those instructors my heart goes out to them. For those of you that are still there chipping away, we bow to your grit and determination and you will forever inspire us. Our thanks go out to you.
Our wish at Drummond is that you take your fight into 2021. You look back and know that you made a mark in 2020 in so many good ways. You touched people you have never touched before with your online offering. Your adaptability and leading the way is the strongest it has ever been. Your ability to adapt and change continues on a daily basis and now will be one of your strengths.
Stop the clock soon and take some time to reflect on your last eight months. Pick your highlights and raise your glass to them. Pat yourself on your back and know that you did it!!!!