Community rallies to save Loftus TAFE gym

Not happy: Students and members are fighting to save community memberships at Loftus TAFE's onsite gym. Picture: John Veage
Not happy: Students and members are fighting to save community memberships at Loftus TAFE's onsite gym. Picture: John Veage

TAFE fitness students and members of the public are fighting to save a popular gym at Loftus TAFE after it was announced the current structure would change on November 25.

Futures Fitness Centre is located at TAFE NSW Loftus campus and is open to TAFE students undertaking fitness-related studies as well as members of the public.

Gym members were advised in writing earlier this month that the current membership system would be replaced with a "more student-focused model" from November 25.

Under the new model, gym memberships would no longer exist but members of the public could join community group exercise sessions or personal training programs with students, free of charge, with sessions advertised on Facebook and noticeboards at TAFE's public massage clinic.

A TAFE spokesman said the changes would affect 48 paying members.

The letter to members said the changes had come about after TAFE teachers advised management that the current "commercial operations are interfering with student delivery and timetabling".

"In these circumstances, we've made the decision to prioritise our core business - education and training," the letter said.

"Under these changes, community members will still gain access to subsidised fitness services, while students gain real-world experience and improved educational outcomes."

Karina Shrestha, who is completing a Fitness Certificate III at TAFE NSW Loftus, said the public could access the gym at discounted rates in return for allowing students to "practice teaching and training the members".

She said members of varying age and fitness levels trained at the gym alongside budding fitness instructors.

"Having the operating gym, knowledgeable gym staff and real-life members has enhanced our education and I can truly say that without this service and assets our education would not be at this high level," she said.

"To take the gym staff and the gym facility away from us would be robbing us of the highest level of education and training and lessen our learning experience.

"TAFE is all about making students 'job ready'. Closing Future Fitness Centre is going against this fundamental TAFE value."

Up in arms: Students and staff are battling to keep Futures Fitness Centre open to the public.Picture: John Veage

Up in arms: Students and staff are battling to keep Futures Fitness Centre open to the public.Picture: John Veage

Ms Shrestha said instructing real members allowed students to receive valuable feedback.

"This exposure is just not available at other gyms, as gyms do not allow students to instruct their paying members, due to business policy and insurance reasons," she said.

Ms Shrestha said she was "gravely disappointed" students would lose an "incredible asset and invaluable learning tool" while many members would struggle to afford a gym membership elsewhere.

"Members are losing a gym that they call their second home, a beautiful community that keeps its members fit and healthy," she said.

"Many of these clients would not go to another gym. It is heartbreaking to consider that they may lose this.

"Also, students use the gym facility for our own training and to work on improving skills and technique. Some students are financially unable to join outside gyms."

Ms Shrethsa said she decided to study at Loftus TAFE over other campuses because of the onsite gym.

"Conducting work experience in an operating gym with real clients has enriched our learning experience," she said.

"We have been involved with health screenings, health assessments and programming, and gained insights we would not receive at outside gyms.

"The staff have been incredible.They have gone above and beyond to teach the students the ins and outs of operating a gym, anatomy and movement analysis that is just not available anywhere else."

TAFE is all about making students 'job ready'. Closing Futures Fitness Centre is going against this fundamental TAFE value.

Loftus TAFE student Karina Shrestha

The Leader has been contacted by a number of members and fitness students who voiced their concerns over the changes.

Mark Dayhew, who joined the gym three years ago after retiring, urged TAFE to reconsider.

"By closing the gym to the public it will detract from the students' learning experience," he said.

"As a retiree and from an older cohort to the students, we are able to impart many life experiences to the students. We also provide the opportunity to engage with the ageing population, who form a vital segment of the fitness and wellbeing market in the years ahead.

"It is unlikely that periodic community group sessions advertised via Facebook will be as beneficial as interaction across a normal member environment that currently exists."

Mr Dayhew said teaching staff had denied TAFE's claims the gym was detrimental to students.

"Teaching staff welcome the interaction of students with gym members and fully support the workplace benefits gained towards securing employment for their students," he said.

Mr Dayhew said he highly valued his membership and the gym was a "significant part" of his weekly routine.

"It has provided an opportunity to maintain and improve my fitness and wellbeing," he said.

"The closure would result in a reduction of health and wellbeing outcomes for the majority of existing public members."

Community asset: Members receive low-cost memberships in exchange for helping fitness students gain experience. Picture: Supplied

Community asset: Members receive low-cost memberships in exchange for helping fitness students gain experience. Picture: Supplied

Another community member, Paul Stebbing, said he had never seen any evidence that members were interfering with students' learning.

While he acknowledged the offer of no-cost personal and group training sessions, the majority of members preferred to visit when it suited them.

"It's a very social environment for many of our senior citizens," he said.

"I do not consider the gym to be a 'discount gym'. When I first joined, I thought it was a smart financial idea to share facilities that would otherwise lie idle early in the morning."

A TAFE NSW spokesman said while the organisation was always open to using its training facilities to provide services to local residents, "ultimately though, TAFE NSW is a training provider and our students come first".

"Recent updates to our fitness course delivery have expanded practical training requirements, significantly increasing the amount of time required to assess students in a practical environment," the spokesman said.

"These changes were based on advice from the Australian Skills and Quality Authority and were made after the previous advice regarding the continued operation of the gym was provided to members.

"The changes proposed will provide students with increased opportunities to practice and demonstrate their skills with community members able to access an expanded range of student-run fitness classes and personalised training programs. These programs will be provided to the public free of charge.

"TAFE NSW is committed to working with members to transition them to the new arrangements, or alternatively assist them move to another local provider if that is their wish."