TAFE NSW agrees to keep the gym open for one more month

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

Members of a fitness centre at TAFE NSW Loftus campus are celebrating a slight reprieve in their fight to keep it open to the public.

Members of the public whose memberships were being revoked from November 25 have been told the current structure would remain in place until December 20 while emergency talks were held with NSW TAFE management.

Futures Fitness Centre is open to TAFE students undertaking fitness-related studies and members of the public who receive discounted gym memberships.

Members were advised in writing last month that the current membership system would be replaced with a "more student-focused model". Gym memberships would no longer exist but members of the public could join group exercise sessions or personal training programs with students, free of charge, with sessions advertised on Facebook and TAFE noticeboards.

A TAFE spokesman said the changes would affect 48 paying members but this figure has been disputed by members.

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

Karina Shrestha, who is completing a Fitness Certificate III at TAFE NSW Loftus, has been fighting to save the gym ever since the changes were announced.

She said the gym memberships not only gave community members and students access to an affordable gym, but allowed students to "practice teaching and training the members", something not available at other gyms.

Win win: Members receive low-cost memberships in exchange for helping fitness students. Picture: Supplied

Win win: Members receive low-cost memberships in exchange for helping fitness students. Picture: Supplied

"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," 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.

She said she welcomed the one-month extension but feared TAFE's mind was made up after 50 per cent of staff were let go.

"We are still fighting for it to remain open [but] it looks like closure will go ahead December 20. They are down from four gym staff to two. Talks continue, however I doubt we will get anywhere," she said.

A TAFE NSW spokesman said the changes were necessary to ensure students' needs came 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," he said .

"The changes 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."

The Leader has been contacted by a number of members and students concerned about the changes.

John Ross of Sutherland joined the gym 14 years ago when he was a TAFE teacher. Now a community member, he described the proposed change as a "great demonstration of poor decision-making".

"Over many years, we have often had students come into the gym to talk to us about our well-being goals and exercise programs, and suggest different activities to improve our fitness and much more," he said.

"The conversations we have are great experience for the students, who are keen to enter in the fitness industry. The fitness industry provides services to a very diverse community [and] for some of the students, talking with us builds their confidence."

Mr Ross believes removing community members from the gym will leave students unable to complete aspects of their course.

He said the decision was at odds with TAFE NSW's strategic plan and questioned previous changes to the gym's public operating hours, which were reduced to early morning and late afternoon.

Another member, Robyn Oliver, told the Leader, very little notice was given about the cancellation of memberships and said visiting the gym allowed her to stay fit enough to care for her young grandchildren.

"I am a pensioner and cannot afford to attend an alternative gym," she said.

"Attendance at the gym enables me to keep my general fitness and core strength. My health is going to be compromised.

"In all the time I have been attending the gym there has not been any interruption to student activity caused by commercial members and, on the contrary, the members have played an educational role for students.

"If there were a timetabling problem then why not modify the hours of opening - not close down membership altogether."