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Guidance to make leisure facilities more appealing to women

10th November 2021

This Girl Can and ukactive join forces to produce advice aimed at improving the experiences of women and girls at leisure facilities.

The award-winning This Girl Can campaign has partnered with ukactive to produce new guidance to help gyms and leisure facilities become more welcoming to women and girls. 

Published in response to the latest Sport England Active Lives report, which reveals that men continue to be more regularly active than women, the recommendations aim to narrow the gender activity gap and improve experiences within these environments. 

Developed over nine months and using extensive research and insight, the new guidance includes checklists and suggestions to help increase the confidence and participation of women and girls using gyms and other leisure facilities. 

A black woman smiles while exercising on a machine in a gym

The practical guide, titled ‘How to improve your services for women and girls: as told by the 51%’ has been welcomed by leading fitness operators, and Sport England chief executive, Tim Hollingsworth, highlighted the importance of public facilities in enabling women to be active. 

“It’s crucial that we focus on getting more women regularly active,” he said. 

“Leisure environments are important for sustaining women’s activity levels; prior to the pandemic, 21% of women were regular participants in fitness classes, while the number of women taking part in weights sessions was also seeing an increase. 

“By listening to women and working with fitness providers to develop the guidance, we’re confident that it will help even more facilities to engage with women.  

“The development of this guidance has been a great example of collaboration on behalf of the sport and physical activity sector and will support organisations to appeal to more women.”  

Earlier this year, in partnership with This Girl Can, ukactive commissioned Savanta ComRes to conduct a survey of more than 1,000 women and girls. 

The results from this, as well as those from a series of focus groups conducted by the ukactive Research Institute, informed the development of the guidance. 

By listening to women and working with fitness providers to develop the guidance, we’re confident that it will help even more facilities to engage with women."

Tim Hollingsworth

Chief executive, Sport England

They showed that 60% of respondents visited a fitness or leisure centre at least once a month in the past three years, but that 50% of women with experience of exercising in these settings in the past three years worry about being judged. 

Of those with a fear of judgement, more were concerned about being judged by other women (27%) than by men (22%). 

The results also showed 13% of respondents worry about the risk or threat of sexual harassment, intimidation or embarrassment. Furthermore 45% said a member of staff demonstrating exercises/activities and how to use equipment would encourage their participation. 

Nearly a third of women surveyed identified cost as a barrier to participation, with 32% of those who have attended a fitness or leisure centre in the past three years saying it was too expensive. 

Huw Edwards, the chief executive of ukactive, believes it is vital that these results are taken on board by the sector. 

“We have listened closely to the views of women and girls about how they feel using our nation’s gyms and leisure centres,” he said. 

“We know how popular fitness activities can be among women and girls, but there is a huge opportunity for our sector’s facilities to engage more women, as part of our shared ambition with the government to reach five million new members this decade.  

“Reducing the barriers to female participation is a fundamental challenge for our sector, with our research showing clear demand from more women and girls to be able to enjoy these facilities. 

“We are proud to partner with Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign to produce this practical guide for our members, which we believe will be a crucial tool to help improve their services for women and girls.”  

A separate survey in September this year, also conducted by Savanta ComRes, showed that despite lower numbers of women being active, 57% of women stated an intention to do more physical activity when coronavirus (Covid-19) is less of a factor, compared to just 44% of men. 

This highlights a big opportunity for providers to cater to this demand and Rebecca Passmore, UK managing director at PureGym, is determined to act upon this latest research. 

“I feel very strongly that we need all women to feel like gyms are places they can belong, feel safe and confident to get active,” she said. 

“Through the work done by ukactive and Sport England we now have a clearer picture of women’s concerns about exercising at the gym, which is vital in our ability to start breaking down the barriers.  

“At PureGym we are already working hard to address these challenges, but seeing as these are industry-wide issues, we need an industry-wide response to make a real difference.  

“The launch of this guide will aid our collective efforts to make facilities more inclusive and welcoming environments, and to empower women to start their health and fitness journeys.”  

How to improve your services for women and girls: as told by the 51%

Download the guidance