Retro: help for Sheffielders to get fit

Jessica Ennis-Hill opening the refusribshed Eniglish Institute of Sport training facilities
Jessica Ennis-Hill opening the refusribshed Eniglish Institute of Sport training facilities
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An organisation that works to keep Sheffielders fit is celebrating its 15th birthday this year. Phil Hammond takes a look back at how it has grown.

Fitness Unlimited started in January 2000 with just two venues, a handful of fitness classes and a health suite.

Fast forward 15 years and Fitness Unlimited, operated by local charity Sheffield City Trust, now spans across six venues in Sheffield.

These include Ponds Forge International Sports Centre, Hillsborough Leisure Centre, Concord Sports Centre, Springs Leisure Centre, Heeley Swimming Pool and the English Institute of Sport Sheffield (EISS).

It has sold approximately 150,000 memberships since its infancy, firmly placing it as the city’s most popular health and fitness scheme.

Sheffield City Trust’s charitable aim is to benefit the health and wellbeing of the people of Sheffield. Every surplus £ it generates is reinvested back into the venues it runs and services it operates.

In fact, over the last decade and a half, it has invested more than £20 million in its fitness facilities, benefiting almost 30 per cent of the Sheffield population.

Currently, Fitness Unlimited has more than 18,000 members who enjoy unlimited access to gym, lane and leisure swimming and spa facilities, plus more than 300 weekly fitness classes.

At the time of its launch, Fitness Unlimited was a pioneering pilot, with fitness membership at just £19.99 per month and no joining fee, and its success soon became evident with a massive influx of people signing up to the scheme.

One year on from its launch, more than 8,500 members were already reaping the health benefits of Fitness Unlimited.

Over the past 15 years Fitness Unlimited has gone from strength to strength and, due to the scheme’s continued success, all profits have been invested back into its venues and towards significant improvement of its facilities – further adding to the scheme’s substantial impact on the health of the city.

Past projects include a £3m transformation of the gym at Ponds Forge in 2008, a significant facelift at the English Institute of Sport in 2013, a brand new gym at Heeley Swimming Pool earlier this year.

A more recent revamp at Concord Sports Centre also boasts the latest Unity technology – a mobile app helping members to stay connected to their wellness data and progress.

Sheffield Olympic champion Jessica Ennis-Hill, then Jessica Ennis, was on hand to officially open the new gym at EISS in 2012, before Team GB boxers Savannah Marshall and London 2012 gold medallist Nicola Adams unveiled a major refurbishment of the same gym in 2013.

Other well-known names who have attended the openings of new Fitness Unlimited gyms over the years include freestyle skier and Winter Olympian Katie Summerhayes and MPs David Blunkett and Paul Blomfield.

Members of Concord’s award-winning GP referral scheme, which has seen more than 15,000 people overcome health problems through exercise since its launch, were invited to cut the ribbon and open the centre’s new gym to the public earlier this year.

Fitness Unlimited has won a host of accolades over the last 15 years, including Sheffield Star’s Gym of the Year for Hillsborough Leisure Centre in 2004, Club of the Year for EISS in 2010, Centre of the Year for Concord in 2010. Hillsborough won the Fitness Industry Association’s Leisure Centre of the Year award an unprecedented four years running between 2005 and 2008.

More recently, the Fitness Unlimited facilities have been voted as some of the best in the UK. At the 2014 Members Choice Health Club Awards, which is voted for by customers, EISS took top spot, Springs runner-up and Hillsborough bronze in the category for best gym in Yorkshire.

Steve Brailey, chief executive of SCT, said: “It’s remarkable to look back at the 15-year history of Fitness Unlimited and to see how far it has come.

“It all started from two very busy gyms at Ponds Forge and Hillsborough. We wanted to introduce a low-cost gym model which offered affordable membership across a number of our sites so that the maximum amount of people could benefit from the facilities.

“We now have members from the age of 16 through to 85, and many of our facilities are accredited for use by disabled groups and members with special requirements.

“Our charitable aims have always been to improve the health of the people of Sheffield and I think it’s fair to say that, looking back at the last 15 years, Fitness Unlimited has played a major part in that.

“We hope to see many more people continue their quests for healthy lifestyles as we build upon the success of the last 15 years and work towards the next chapter in the history of Fitness Unlimited.”