Joining a local gym this New Year?

Emma Brophy believes that it's not what gets you into the gym that counts, it's what keeps you there


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Park Club's get fit or get your money back offer   


It’s that time of year again when we’re constantly reminded of our festive over-indulgences. Television channels are crammed with ads for low fat foods, magazines with healthy option recipes and slimming clubs and the doormat is covered with ads from gyms featuring glamorous models and pledging that you too could look like them – all you have to do is become a member.

Personally my favoured and appallingly unwholesome reaction to this annual bombardment is to persuade myself to think long term, assure myself I will wear that bikini this summer and gleefully return to the kitchen to finish the last of the mince pies. However, unlike myself, not everyone has three children combined with a pathological hatred of driving in Chiswick to keep them fit and therefore must seek the services of a suitable health club.

As is the case across London, we are well supplied locally with gyms and health clubs. January is typically the month that such establishments launch special offers, estimating that over 20% of their entire year’s new members will enroll whilst New Year resolutions are still fresh. Some clubs offer discounted joining fees, some holiday vouchers, some reduced rates if you pay for a whole year in advance. These may sound tempting but with new members dropping out in their first year at a rate up to 70%, success is not just about attracting new members, it’s retaining them that is vital. It was with this in mind I asked members of various local clubs not what attracted them to join in the first place, but what is was that kept them loyal.

I started with Fiona and John who are both members of The Hogarth Club in Airedale Avenue. Fiona is an off-peak member, meaning she can only use the facilities until 3.00pm and not at all on a Sunday and John is a peak member with no restrictions. They both love the country club feel of the building and surrounding grounds and are impressed with the facilities which include gymnasium, indoor pool, two championship tennis courts, squash court, beauty spa and a great restaurant / bar area.

The down side for them is that they have with two young children, but with a 7 day a week crèche and children allowed to use the pool on a Wednesday afternoon and all day Sunday, the club does what it feels appropriate to accommodate families. Fiona and John would give it four out of five for value for money because of the extra costs they incur for the crèche but were keen to add that part of the club’s appeal for them is the fact that it provides the perfect break from the children. In truth this is not a family club and isn’t trying to be, however, the facilities, great location and congenial atmosphere make it ideal for singles and childless couples and attracts more than a few famous faces to its treadmills! The Hogarth Club operates a useful ‘no minimum contract’ basis with monthly payments from as little as £65.

When it came to The Park Club, I had a hard time choosing from the great number of members I knew. I settled on Karen and Nick who have nine year old twins and have been members since the club first opened (they availed themselves of the great ‘free mountain bike offer’ which they still use to get themselves to the club).

Located in East Acton and set in 27 acres of grounds including tennis courts, sun terrace, lawns and outdoor pool it would be impossible not to appreciate the sense of space The Park Clubs offers. Karen, Nick and the children spend a large part of their leisure time there and love not only the relaxed, friendly atmosphere, but also the kudos that membership gives them.

The Park Club states “The family is central to our culture” and astutely recognises that there are times when you need to be together as a family and times when you need space for yourself. They operate an extensive programme of classes for both children and adults and the superb facilities include personal trainers, state of the art gym, exercise studios, two pools, beauty spa, bar/dining area and team sports such as football and cricket.

As a general rule, children are not permitted in the club after 7.00pm when it becomes strictly adult territory providing the best of all worlds for everyone. Both Karen and Nick also use the club in the evenings to meet friends for a game of tennis and a drink.

Because their children are not yet eleven, the family only pays for the adult members and believe they get great value for money. Nick says “As with any club, if you make the most of what’s on offer, you’ll get your money’s worth. For value I would give it full marks.”

Currently the Park Club are running a very attractive offer for anyone interested in joining the club. From the first week of January new members will have the opportunity to join a “commitment programme”. This simply means going along three times a week, and taking advantage of up to five personal training sessions that are bundled as standard. If a new member then decides that it’s not for them, and ends their membership on or by 29 February, they get all of their money back.

Contact: Tel. 020 8743 4321

When it came to investigating the two Esporta clubs in Chiswick, I was spoilt for choice amongst those who would recommend Esporta Riverside. Situated close to Duke Meadows, this club has long been renowned for its excellent tennis facilities; Tim Henman recently launched a new junior tennis programme there.

Historically considered as la crème de la crème of health clubs before the arrival of The Park Club, Sophie, mother of three exceptionally active children told me why she loves being a member. “It’s the whole package, you really feel like you’re being looked after. It’s true we’re mainly there for the tennis but there’s also a great pool for the kids, Yoga classes, place to get food, everything you would expect from a good club.” Esporta Riverside in fact boasts three pools, a spa, steam rooms, sauna, aerobic studios, 24 tennis courts, beauty salon and a restaurant with take away facilities.

Tempted? Sophie admits that this all comes at a cost and that cost is high, however she believes you get what you pay for. In response to my question of value for money – she just smiled! Whilst there are occasionally discounts in the joining fee, this club does not offer great incentives to attract new members. Reports in the Evening Standard about discounted joining offers at the Esporta clubs in Chiswick appear to have been inaccurate.

Moving to the other side of Chiswick to somewhat less celebrated Esporta Chiswick Park. Situated within the architecturally award winning Chiswick Business Park, it would be safe to say that a substantial number of its members are office workers from the Business Park and the surrounding offices. With absolutely no facilities for children, this contemporary space provides a peaceful haven for its members.

Roger, a fine figure of a man in his forties and married with two daughters is a regular there. He uses the gym and the pool, occasionally the sauna but claims he wouldn’t touch the Jacuzzi with a barge pole. Why does he like this club? “It’s a great place to get away from it all and think. I find that people come here simply to work out or do a class and aren’t interested in socializing which suits me, I get enough talk at home!”

Facilities include 25m indoor swimming pool, spas, steam and sauna rooms, aerobic studio, gym and beauty salon. Roger believes the monthly cost is ‘not extortionate’ but for him Esporta Chiswick Park’s main attractions for him is its location and lack of children. This Esporta does run special offers from time to time and has a more reasonable monthly membership rate than its sister club on the River.

Virgin Active, based on the site of the former Bromyard Leisure Centre, is the choice of Liz, Gary and their two young children. This new club offers a 13,000 sq ft Gym with 300 pieces of equipment, 2 Studios, 25m indoor pool, a children’s pool which incorporates a baby pool, spa, steam and sauna rooms, a hydro pool, igloo, library with free internet access, café/bar lounge area and beauty therapies. Outdoor pursuits include tennis, cricket, football and netball.

Liz and Gary are particularly enamored with Club V, a comprehensive kids club with 3 storey soft play, arts & crafts, Sony PlayStation 2 Zone, crèche, sports court and holiday programmes. They told me “We use the club as an extension of our home. We meet friends there for lunch or tea and the children have a great place to play. They especially love the kids pool.”

At present Virgin Active has no joining fee and the monthly membership rate is very reasonable. They claim ‘special membership packages’ to suit everyone however, it should be noted that, unlike The Park Club, children are charged a small monthly membership fee from the age of 5. Even with the added cost of the children, Gary still believes that Virgin Active is still good value for money.

Staying in Acton, I spoke to Mark who is a member of Fitness First. Located in The Oaks Centre with ample parking, he loves the young, friendly and very mixed crowd who are members there. With all the up to the minute facilities including gym, cardio theatre, ladies only gym, sauna and beauty room Mark gives his gym top marks for value for money. He feels that the downsides are that there is no pool and for those who have children there are no crèche facilities.

This month, Fitness First have reduced their joining fee by £80 to just £20 and are offering a £150 Cosmos Holiday voucher to new members. If you are still not tempted, you can obtain a free day pass to try out the facilities via their website

Addresses and contact details for all the clubs featured in this article can be found elsewhere on the site with the exception of Fitness First whose details are above.

All this talk of gyms has made me rather peckish, I wonder if there are any mince pies left!

January 10, 2004