Are the new changes to the gym memberships making things more complicated?

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Possibly one of the biggest shake-ups in the sporting world of Kent was Emily Window’s (Vice President (Student Engagement)) Christmas Day announcement on the issue of gym memberships. Gym membership prices and structures have long been a point of contention for many students, especially for anyone wanting to be a part of the sports team. This academic year saw the introduction of the ‘Facilities only’ memberships, which was met with mixed reactions. Many were frustrated with the idea that sports players would not want discounted entry. Afia Kurfour, a netball player, commented: “As Netball players, we also want to be in the gym. It goes hand in hand. Therefore, I do not understand why someone would want to deny you of it. It is backward, it doesn’t make sense. It makes Kent sport seem ‘money motivated’.” Whilst the facilities membership was not an ideal solution for everyone, it does appear as though Kent Union is actively trying to push for more change. The most recent developments regarding gym memberships do seem promising. The new changes includes: free membership for all first-year students, extended to those living on campus regardless of what year you are in. And finally, for second-year students and above, who do not live on campus, Kent Sport are introducing an option of monthly payments. These are substantial changes, which are likely to have a significant impact on the number of people currently attending the gym. Undoubtably this will serve as a powerful incentive to get more students to focus on their health and fitness in a way we have not seen at Kent before. Financial barriers are often sighted as a key reason as to why an individual may not participate in a sport or attend the gym. In an article published by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), Professor Anne Powers’ research for the charity Street Games found that “cost is the biggest barrier for over school-age young people”. Kent Union currently works to alleviate the consequences of this through the “access to activities fund”. It is advertised as a means of supporting students who “cannot afford the core activity costs associated with joining a student group”. Yet, it is still questionable how under publicised this fund is, and how many people are aware of the fact that financial aid is available for those looking for additional funds. However, by allowing a large proportion of students to have free access to the gym, optimists may be right in assuming that will create an opportunity for someone who may not have considered the gym before to get more involved in sport. Professor Powers’ research also highlighted that “leaving school is a cliff edge for sport”; this seems like a step in the right direction in combating this. These changes are welcomed, yet it cannot be ignored that more changes are needed in order to gain the full support of the students at Kent. In addition, these new changes may come with additional problems. Firstly, for any gym goers who hate the sudden influx of people trying to get in shape, because of their “new year, new me” body transformation motivation, be prepared to fight for a treadmill. Over 5,000 people currently live on campus. It would be irrational to assume that all 5,000 people would suddenly turn up to the gym but it is only logical to suggest that more people will be inclined to use the facilities. As regular visitors to the sports centre around 6 o’clock on a weekday know, the university gym is not the biggest in the world. It is currently unclear how Kent Sport intends on accommodating a significantly higher number of students wanting to use the sports centre facilities.

It is also clear that the new changes clearly benefit one group more than another. More specifically, students who live off-campus appear to be at a disadvantage. Unfortunately, many people who may have hoped to see change may be forced to see others reap the rewards of years of promises. In addition, they may be asked to pay for a membership, whereas their friend receives it for free, purely based on their address. Concerningly, although the pricing for campus accommodation ranges widely, it is still cheaper to find your own accommodation off-campus. Inadvertently, this may benefit those who can afford to spend three years on campus, as opposed to those who look to find more affordable accommodation elsewhere. Arguably, removing the barriers may not be advantageous for those who initially set out to help. Whilst offering free things to students will always be met with appreciation, it is worth asking if an overall drop in fees would have benefited more people. Sports players living off-campus find themselves in a very similar position yet again, but perhaps this is the sacrifice needed to get more people into the gym and into sports teams. Given the sudden drop in prices for many students, it is still worth questioning: why were they so high in the first place? This issue regularly appears as a manifesto point for those seeking election for positions within Kent Union and has consistently been noted as an issue for many sports players and gym-goers. It would be interesting to get further insight into what required Kent Sport to increase prices in the past and what the extra money was used for. As an increase in gym visitors look increasingly likely, perhaps funding an expansion of the facilities should have been considered prior to make changes of this magnitude. Overall, it would be unfair to suggest that these changes are anything less than remarkable. For years, students have been frustrated with the lack of progress on this issue. Whether you agree with the changes or not, something has finally been done. Something will always be better than nothing, and this ‘something’ is impressive considering so many others have struggled to bring about similar results.

The work done by Ms Window and Kent Union should be commended. Whilst, this is impressive, I remain optimistic that this is the start to a system which will hopefully promote sport at Kent and incentivise future students to get more involved. My optimism stems from finally seeing a start to something I did not expect to see whilst still a student at the University of Kent. Not everyone will be happy, but this is possibly one of the most substantial examples of Kent Union actively working to combat issues brought to them by sports players and students. More changes are needed, but in the meantime, these implementations are welcomed.

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