Ethical gyms flex their muscles with £14.99 membership fee

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The Independent Online

Bridges Ventures, the socially aware private equity firm backed by the Apax founder Sir Ronald Cohen and Tom Singh of retail chain New Look, will begin an assault on the UK fitness market tomorrow when 'The Gym' is launched, charging customers just £14.99 a month with no contract or joining fee. The group's first business, in Hounslow, west London, will be open 24 hours a day and has already secured 5,000 members, who have signed up at the discounted £9.99-a-month tariff.

Anne-Marie Harris, investment director at Bridges, said: "About 12 per cent of the UK population are gym members but research indicates this figure could increase significantly if high membership fees were not so restrictive. The Gym offers a logical solution to the problem."

In keeping with the group's socially aware credentials, all of the equipment's electronic components, with the exception of treadmills, are self-powered. Typically, such equipment is run off a mains power supply.

Bridges will invest an initial £1m in the group, which is headed by the sector veteran John Treharne, former boss of Dragon's Health Clubs. The group has aggressive plans to roll out further businesses across the UK and has already earmarked a number of sites. It hopes to attract members away from more expensive gyms, as the credit crunch hits consumer pockets.

"Cheaper joining fees don't mean cheap equipment," said Ms Harris. "We are using the best Cybex equipment – more up to date than many other gyms. People who are members of gyms often feel they are very expensive – a bit of a luxury. We hope The Gym will change that."

Bridges Ventures invests in companies in deprived areas, working to raise standard in areas such as healthcare, the environment and education.

The group has spent time researching the launch of new gyms in America, where low-cost offers are more prevalent.

The Gym's £14.99-a-month membership fee compares well with established offerings such as Virgin Active, which charges up to £83 a month in London.