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A good fit

The BMA’s new staff gym at its London HQ has turned out to be a facility that people actually want to use. BMA Head of Estates, Ian Wade, tells FMJ the secrets of its success

Health and wellbeing has moved up the facilities management agenda over the last couple years, from a nice-to-have to an integral part of the FM role. It encompasses everything from the provision of nutritious food and drink, fresh air and natural light to the introduction of plants and quiet areas.

There is also a growing realisation that movement and exercise during the working day is essential to health. A recent report from AXA PPP healthcare found that 78 per cent of managers agreed that exercise positively impacts employees’ productivity, while 82 per cent thought it improved their ability to handle stress.

The solution for many organisations is to offer access to a gym as part of an overall benefits package. However, this isn’t always ideal, as nearly half (45 per cent) of employees admitted in the same survey they found it difficult to find time to leave the office to fit in an exercise activity. This despite the fact that 63 per cent of managers would consider allowing their workforce the flexibility during the working day to enable them to be more active.

Installing a purpose-built gym within the workplace is a sensible solution as it gives people access to fitness facilities without having to leave the office. But how can you ensure that your brand-spanking-new gym facilities will still be popular once the novelty has worn off, potentially leaving you with a shiny white elephant?

BMA House, a beautiful grade II listed building in Tavistock Square, London, is the headquarters of the British Medical Association, the trade union and professional body for doctors in the UK. It also houses staff from the British Medical Journal (BMJ). It offers a range of attractive meeting rooms, library and workspaces, and even has a generous-sized courtyard and garden.

Ian Wade, Head of UK Estates for the BMA, opened a 120 sq m basement staff gym in BMA House in May 2017. Almost a year down the line it has proved a resounding success, attracting 250 out of the 450 people based in the building.

Explains Wade: “We need to practise what we preach as our core value is ‘we look after doctors so they can look after you.’ The workplace wellbeing ethos was very high on everyone’s agenda, and there is the obvious connection with the idea of a healthy workforce equalling happy people, who in turn will be more productive. But there was also another issue – we’ve got this beautiful grade II listed building in the heart of Bloomsbury, so why not use our building more smartly, and see what we could do that would be of real benefit to staff.”

He discovered there was space in the basement and was able to do a ‘land grab’ from two old storerooms and reshuffle an old carpentry workshop. “I went to the CEO and the FD and they asked me to get some plans drawn up, and the project just came together. It wasn’t a hard sell in terms of getting buy-in from senior managers, it was a case of putting my business case forward.”

He toyed with the idea of doing a staff poll first, but decided to fly under the radar using the project name Salus – the Roman god of safety and wellbeing. “It was an FM-run project and we announced it two months before we went live.”

At around £200,000, the cost of the actual build is not astronomical, and Wade also took the decision to lease the exercise equipment, as he reasoned that if it didn’t work out he could “put in some soft furnishings instead and call it chill-out space. The capex would never be lost in that case.”

Gym equipment supplier Origin Fitness was consulted to help plan the gym layout and machine selection and advise on the use of space and optimum headcount. The old carpentry workshop is the site of the new gym, while two storerooms in the corridor were converted into male and female changing rooms, along with an accessible shower room. And because staff can leave their desk and be at the gym in five minutes without needing their coats, the FM team was able to install smaller lockers.

About Sarah OBeirne

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