Q&A with Greg Darkes – Head of Leisure Club Operations at Whittlebury Park

With the leisure club at Whittlebury Park re-opening on the 12th of April, Head of Leisure Club Operations, Greg Darkes, reveals how lockdown has inspired him to re-think the leisure club experience for his members, and how lockdown has been a learning experience for him and his team.

Will you be introducing any new classes when you re-open?

To celebrate the reopening of The Leisure Club we are planning a number of four-week challenges where members can follow a specific plan and workout with instructors online. The first in the series will be a ‘Post Lockdown Body Blitz’ – a combination of various workouts including HIIT, functional, strength and conditioning classes to help shake off the cobwebs of lockdown, all from the comfort of their own homes.

Do you plan to offer any outdoor classes?

We are fortunate to have 700 acres of land at Whittlebury Park, and we plan to offer two bootcamp classes a week outside. We trialled these classes outside in the summer and they were very well received so they will be available again as soon as restrictions have lifted.

What new technology have you brought in to help keep people safe?

We’ve introduced self-check temperature units, contactless sanitiser units and more recently a live class streaming solution. We were developing live-streamed classes ahead of the pandemic, but we decided to fast-track this technology during the first lockdown so that members could continue to benefit from regular classes and workouts with their favourite instructors remotely. We’ve had excellent feedback, with members reporting how intuitive and easy it is to book and join online classes. We have also had positive feedback on the app, and the feature which shows how busy the pool or gym will be at different times has been particularly well received.

Do you plan to keep an online element to leisure classes going forward?

Given the positive feedback, we are planning to continue offering online classes so that members can join in from home as this will be an excellent addition to their membership. The majority of our popular classes will be live streamed, and we also have plans to expand our on-demand workout library so that members can work out with their favourite instructors anytime.

What lessons did you learn from lockdown?

That anything is possible with a great team around you. When we were planning for the first re-opening there was so much to consider and organise, but with the input of the whole team it became seamless. We had great synergy and even after we re-opened, we were flexible to change and took a proactive approach to anything that didn’t quite work. No one I’ve spoken to in the industry has ever experienced disruption like this, and hopefully we won’t again, but the only thing we can do is brush ourselves off and start the recovery process, which is also extremely exciting and will be a great learning experience.

What health and safety measures do you have in place?

We’ve implemented a number a measures to ensure members and guests are safe in the gym and classes, including a members’ app where members can book their gym, swim or class session remotely to ensure we keep to our maximum capacities per session in line with physical distancing regulations.

In the gym, our staff have increased our already thorough cleaning regimes and provided additional antibacterial spray so that members can wipe down their machines once finished. We’ve also installed Perspex screens between cardio equipment.  Our class studio has moved to a bigger function room in the hotel which means we can offer a two-metre square workout space per participant and still operate within normal capacity.

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