On March 23, Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness (SUSF) closed its doors as the NSW Government enforced major lockdowns on all non-essential services in response to COVID-19. The facilities were a ghost town, competitions and programs either ceased or had to adapt and clubs were no longer able to train. The word ‘unprecedented’ gets thrown around a lot, but it truly was something SUSF and the world had never seen.
Leadership, organisation and direction had never been so important in such trying times and the SUSF brains trust banded together to ensure its 15,000 members and staff were being looked after to the best of their capabilities. With head office closed, Zoom meetings became the norm and the detailed planning process was underway, being tweaked on a daily basis with the situation constantly changing.
‘’The biggest challenge was not knowing when the restrictions were going to be lifted and what the protocols would be to be operational again,’’ SUSF Facilities and Services Manager Paul Reynolds said.
Two days after the closure announcement, memberships were put on a temporary time stop and members were kept regularly updated through a chain of email communications and social media posts. We refused to leave our members astray and while exercise options were limited under restrictions, SUSF offered a range of live workouts that included BodyCombat, BodyBalance, Grit Strength, Grit Cardio and Body Attack which were led by two of our fantastic Group Fitness instructors, Rachel and Karola. In a huge win for members, they also received complimentary access to Les Mills on Demand for two months with 800+ workouts on offer.
Our gym staff got involved too, with trainers Paulo and Ash demonstrating step-by-step workouts at home that gave members an alternative to the gym to help a large portion of them adjust to their new work from home lifestyles. It was great to see many of our student members get involved with our live Interfaculty Sport workouts that acted as a substitute for the regular competition which has now been paused in 2020, with live workouts continuing into Semester 2.
No members in the facility meant no action and you could hear a pin drop if you walked through the doors of SUSAC or Arena. It created a strange, eerie feeling, however it did open up an opportunity to upgrade our facilities and tend to a number of essential projects that had been queuing up.
‘’We completed two large projects during the pandemic lockdown – firstly we drained the pool to enable essential maintenance works to take place in the plant room which was a project that we had been looking to do for some time but due to the five-week downtime involved it was not a project that was an easy option to take,’’ Reynolds said.
‘’Secondly, we had courts 3 and 4 at the Sports & Aquatic Centre sanded back after many years of use. This result was outstanding and the positive feedback we have received since re-opening the courts was well worth the cost involved.’’
The sight of an empty pool went bezerk on our social media accounts and people were in just as much awe of the newly-done courts. But nothing left our followers more amazed than the lush new turf on The Square that turned a perfect tinge of green during the lockdown period. If there was any positive to take from a deserted campus, the SUSF greenskeepers thrived under a lack of foot traffic and had The Square and University Oval No.1 and No.2 in prime conditions for the eventual return of clubs.
The facilities rejuvenation was the talk of the town but there was also a time for celebration as SUSF honoured the 2019 Sports Awards winners. In the absence of a celebratory evening together, SUSF hosted a social takeover where we announced our award winners throughout the day, including a dual rollout with the Elite Athlete Program who also announced Sydney University’s sporting scholarship recipients for 2020. A huge congratulations must go out to Josh Ralph and Jaime Ryan who were crowned the Male and Female Sportspeople of the Year respectively.
As the COVID-19 situation dramatically improved across the nation and a lockdown end date became closer in site, members received some very positive news. As a way of saying thank you, it was decided that post-lockdown all memberships would be extended by 127 days (in excess of the 90-day closures), while Gold, Silver, Bronze & Blue gym pass holders (prepaid 3 months and above duration), were awarded a further one-third or 33.3% to their original gym pass. To put that in perspective, a 12-month Gold pass holder was given a 127-day extension plus an extra four months on top!
With positivity growing, the facility was overhauled with a range of necessary signage to ensure our facilities were COVID-safe upon return, implementing hand sanitizer throughout, social distancing floor stickers and posters to remind people of what they can do to stop the spread of Coronavirus.
Three months of tireless preparation finally came to a close when the NSW Government gave the green light to re-open our facilities, which we did on 22 June. Things would look differently though with members required to book their visits to the gym, pool and group fitness classes using our online booking system – a process that Reynolds said couldn’t have been made possible without the cooperation of our members.
‘’Our members reacted very positively to the changes made and have really helped the whole process transform to the ‘new norm’,’’ Reynolds said.
‘The new norm’, as Reynolds refers to, has become easier and easier to adapt to as time has gone by. Majority of our programs and competitions are back up and running, clubs are in full swing of their respective seasons and our facilities are fully-functioning, albeit with some new measures in place. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without the resilience shown from our brilliant team of staff and understanding of our members.