Women-only Gym Users in Southall Angry at Closure

Say no alternative has been offered by Everyone Active and council

Ladies who use the women's-only gym at Southall Sports Centre
Ladies who use the women's-only gym at Southall Sports Centre


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Women in Southall are angry at the looming closure of a local women-only gym as their religious beliefs mean it’s the only place they feel comfortable working out. Female members of the Southall Sports Centre shared their disappointment that the gym is due to close this week and say it will leave them with nowhere to exercise.

Southall Sports Centre will close its doors on 31 March to make way for an expansion of the West London College next door. The gym has a women-only sauna and exercise area, which attracts female members who don’t want to work out with men for reasons of comfort, modesty or religion.

Southall has a high ethnic minority population, with over 75 per cent of the population identifying as Sikh, Muslim or Hindu, according to the 2011 census. For many female observers of those religions, their beliefs mean they feel most comfortable exercising away from men.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), women said the gym’s closure was a loss to the whole community. Zainab Hasan, who has been using the gym for over five years said: “[The gym’s] women’s space is used by women of all religions and faiths because they feel comfortable. It’s a safe space. It’s a community hub as much as it is a gym.”

Farhia Jama, 29, said Ealing Council, which leases the gym from West London College and runs it alongside gym company Everyone Active, has yet to offer a realistic alternative to the women-only space. She said, “There has been no communication with members as to what alternatives are available.

“One gym has been suggested but not a lot of women want to go over there because it is a mixed gym. What is in place for us women who want to be healthy and exercise away from men?”

Zainab Hasan, Angela Fonso and Farhia Jama outside Southall Sports Centre
Zainab Hasan, Angela Fonso and Farhia Jama outside Southall Sports Centre

Angela Fonso, 53, claimed Ealing Council had suggested that gym-goers use the new outdoor gyms introduced in the borough, but she said this was impractical because the outdoor gyms had no showers or toilets, and could not be used in cold weather.

Many of the women who spoke to the LDRS said Southall Sports Centre was an important part of their lives. Gulnar Gholami, 58, said, “I’m too sad to see it closed. I’m diabetic and the gym is good for me. I am depressed that the gym will close. Everyone is really sad.”

Zainab is organising a protest outside the gym on 30 March and said she approached MP for Ealing, Southall Virendra Sharma for help. She said, “We are not going to be silent. We are going to make our voices heard. We are going to let it be known to officials that they need to come up with a solution for us.”

Labour MP Virendra Sharma said, “Southall needs public services, and the loss of Southall Sports Centre is bad for our local area. I have long raised the need for more provision of sports facilities locally.

“I wrote to Cllr Peter Mason the leader of Ealing Council earlier this month urging more capacity to replace that lost from Southall Sports Centre, Gurnell Leisure Centre and Southall Young Adults Centre. My children and grandchildren have grown up in Southall, I know what people locally need, and want to see it.

“Southall Sports Centre offered important women only safe spaces and we need that locally. While I welcome exercise equipment in parks, it does not replace what we have lost.”

A spokesperson for West London College said, “Southall Sports Centre is housed in part of Southall Community College, under a lease agreement with Ealing Council and operated by Everyone Active.

“West London College informed Ealing Council it would terminate this lease in 2020, giving time and support in finding alternative locations, including the women-only gym.

“We rely on government funding and are obliged to ensure our income is reinvested for the benefit of providing education and training. Ealing Council have assured us they are exploring alternative venues for sports facilities in Southall.

“Four new gyms are planned for the area and will be available by the time of the closure of Southall Sports Centre. Principal of West London College Karen Redhead has engaged with the community throughout, meeting with the MP and a community representative, answering questions and making appropriate referrals.

“She has been active in responding and engaging with members of the community. We understand that change can be distressing, and the positive impact sports facilities have within the community as a whole, but we have been financially and ethically responsible with our decision-making and planning, putting the long-term interests of the Southall community at the centre of the process.”

A Ealing Council spokesperson said, “As soon as we were made aware of this situation, the council and its leisure operator Everyone Active informed customers and have continued to work with a range of partners to mitigate any loss of access, which included moving all group exercise classes to other locations.

“The council has now secured funding to provide a women’s only gym at Dormers Wells Sports Centre. A planning application was submitted earlier this year and the outcome of the application is anticipated in the next two weeks. Pending a successful outcome, the new modular facility will be ordered. It currently has a lead in time of 10 weeks.”

Everyone Active has been contacted for comment.


Lisa Haseldine - Local Democracy Reporter

March 30, 2022

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