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‘I dropped my sandwich when I found out’: The firms left out on Super Saturday

Gyms, casinos and bowling alleys will not be allowed to open on Saturday as pubs and restaurants welcome customers back.

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Total Fitness has already fully prepared its 17 clubs across the north of England and Wales for social distancing (Total Fitness/PA

Total Fitness has already fully prepared its 17 clubs across the north of England and Wales for social distancing (Total Fitness/PA

Total Fitness has already fully prepared its 17 clubs across the north of England and Wales for social distancing (Total Fitness/PA

The head of one of the UK’s largest bowling companies has said he dropped his sandwich when he heard the Prime Minister announce that his business would be one of the few not allowed to reopen this Saturday.

Bowling alleys, casinos and gyms will keep their doors shut even as pubs, gaming arcades and restaurants are allowed to welcome customers back after more than three months of lockdown.

The announcement came as a shock to Steve Burns, the boss of Hollywood Bowl, which runs 61 sites across the country, who was sat at his computer when he heard the news.

“When Boris (Johnson) made his announcement, we were all sat merrily watching it,” he said, as his team was preparing for new restrictions on social distancing for when they planned to reopen alongside the pubs on July 4.

It was a complete shock to the systemSteve Burns on hearing he would not be able to reopen

The company had already emailed customers to tell them the good news, but as the Prime Minister spoke, it became clear that the 1,000 bookings they already had for Saturday would need to be cancelled.

“I dropped my sandwich on to my keyboard when he said bowling alleys (would not open),” Mr Burns told the PA news agency.

“That was genuinely the first time we heard of it, it was a complete shock to the system.”

The bowling giant, which had already started to experiment with social distancing in early March, before lockdown struck, had been ready to go, Mr Burns said.

Now though, the company is one of a select few not sure when business will restart.

Among these firms are worried gym owners.

Sophie Lawler’s team at Total Fitness has already fully prepared its 17 clubs across the north of England and Wales for social distancing, and is primed to go, she said.

In a slick video on YouTube, which has been watched 29,000 times already, the company hopes it can educate its exercisers on the new measures, including cordoning off some equipment, such as treadmills, and reducing numbers in classes.

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Total Fitness has taped off exercise areas. (Total Fitness/PA)

Total Fitness has taped off exercise areas. (Total Fitness/PA)

Total Fitness has taped off exercise areas. (Total Fitness/PA)

Customers will also be able to book a small taped-off space on the floor of the gym, but some parts will need to stay closed, including the squash courts.

“We’re very ready in that we know exactly what to do and operate in a Covid-secure way, and we’ve known for a very long time. The industry submitted its Covid-secure guidelines to the Government on May 7, so we’ve been very ready, the whole industry, for a while,” Ms Lawler told PA.

Ideally Total Fitness wants three weeks’ notice before opening to give it time to heat up pools and prepare other areas for use, but most parts of the centres can open at the drop of a hat.

Ms Lawler, who employs 700 staff and provides a workplace for another 500 self-employed people such as personal trainers, said the Government has demonstrated a lack of understanding of how the gyms work.

“We were shocked that we weren’t included in the July 4 announcement,” she said, adding the sector had been ready to open with social distancing from early May.

“What’s clear is that the Government just don’t understand the sector, they’re not interested in the sector, it’s not big enough, it’s not shouty enough, despite the fact that it creates a great deal of social value. That was super, super disappointing.”

Her calls to reopen were echoed by Gym Group boss Richard Darwin.

“The prompt and safe reopening of our 179 gyms will boost our members’ physical and mental wellbeing. Our reopening protocols have been reviewed by the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University and we are confident we can reopen safely,” he told PA.

We are ready to go as soon as we canJohn O’Reilly, Rank Group

Several other businesses are also itching to reopen their doors.

John O’Reilly, the chief executive of Grosvenor Casino owner Rank Group, said he was “obviously disappointed” that casinos will not reopen, but has held encouraging talks with Government.

“We are ready to go as soon as we can. I think we will probably need three days’ notice to bring our colleagues out of furlough, but they’ve been continuing training from home in the interim so we’ll be raring to go straight away,” he told PA.

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