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Health Club Management

Health Club Management

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Changing rooms: Gender-neutral changing rooms

Gender neutrality has never been more topical, with high-profile restaurants and museums recently replacing their male and female toilets with gender-neutral facilities. We explore if it is time for all gyms to swap single-sex communal changing spaces for gender-neutral facilities

By Kath Hudson | Published in Health Club Management 2018 issue 2

An interesting change has taken place in many leisure centres across the UK in recent years: traditional open-plan gender-specific changing rooms have given way to changing ‘villages’ that offer individual unisex changing cubicles and showers. It’s arguably an effective way of addressing the privacy and safeguarding objections commonly voiced when the issue of gender-neutral facilities is raised. But what about smaller facilities?

Many gyms and boutique studios enjoy high levels of footfall, especially during peak times, but often they have limited space – making the provision of numerous individual changing areas and shower rooms both an impractical and expensive option.

Smaller fitness facilities looking for practical ways to make their communal areas gender neutral clearly have a challenge to overcome, but some in the industry are already doing just that. We took a closer look.

Name: TRIB3
Location: UK, Moscow, Barcelona

High-end boutique fitness concept Trib3 launched in Sheffield in 2017, and it did so with a millennial audience in mind. With an ethos centred on creating a strong sense of community among its members (as reflected by the brand’s name), while exuding a relaxed urban feel, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Trib3 chose to equip its three UK-based clubs with gender-neutral changing facilities.

The company is in the midst of a Europe-wide expansion, and its founder, Kevin Yates, has suggested it’s likely that the gender-neutral facilities currently present in the UK sites will be replicated in many of the upcoming European sites (see Expert Insight).

A gender-neutral changing zone helps Trib3 pitch itself as a brand with a strong sense of community  / PHOTO: www.trib3.co.uk
A gender-neutral changing zone helps Trib3 pitch itself as a brand with a strong sense of community / PHOTO: www.trib3.co.uk
A gender-neutral changing zone helps Trib3 pitch itself as a brand with a strong sense of community
A gender-neutral changing zone helps Trib3 pitch itself as a brand with a strong sense of community
A gender-neutral changing zone helps Trib3 pitch itself as a brand with a strong sense of community
A gender-neutral changing zone helps Trib3 pitch itself as a brand with a strong sense of community

Name: SoulCycle
Location: US-wide

Boutique indoor cycling giant SoulCycle is known for having gender-neutral facilities, particularly at some of its smaller New York-based sites. In certain locations, such as East 54th Street, users are provided with a communal locker room – which is also used by riders as a changing area.

In keeping with its gender-neutral approach, the brand recently announced that its first studio in San Diego – a 4,000 sq ft suite that’s expected to open in the Westfield UTC mall this spring – will feature four gender-neutral showers.

SoulCycle provides communal locker rooms for members 
at some of its New York sites / PHOTO: www.soul-cycle.com
SoulCycle provides communal locker rooms for members at some of its New York sites / PHOTO: www.soul-cycle.com
SoulCycle provides communal locker rooms for members
SoulCycle provides communal locker rooms for members

Name: Everybody
Location: Los Angeles, US

LA gym Everybody, which opened in January 2017, was founded on the ethos of making fitness as inclusive as possible. To that end, its founders – Sam Rypinski and Lake Sharp – developed its changing and showering facilities with an awareness that “people do not always neatly conform to a binary system of gender” at the forefront of their minds. Rather than encouraging members to choose the gender they identify with when preparing for class or changing and showering afterwards, the studio has a single unisex locker room and a single unisex bathroom with individual bathroom stalls and changing rooms.

Sam Rypinski founded Everybody to provide a truly inclusive fitness environment / PHOTO: www.everybodylosangeles.com
Sam Rypinski founded Everybody to provide a truly inclusive fitness environment / PHOTO: www.everybodylosangeles.com

EXPERT INSIGHT

While SoulCycle, Everybody and Trib3 have found ways to address gender inclusivity despite being boutique operations, the question remains: is there a need for the whole industry to follow suit?

Kath Hudson speaks to two industry experts whose facilities have taken different approaches

Sticking with tradition

Kate Starkie
Kate Starkie
Kate Starkie,

Project manager,

Nuffield Health and Wellbeing


We’ve continued to operate separate changing areas across our estate because this has been the general layout of the clubs we have acquired and our members are very happy with the situation.

I think, as a nation, we tend to be quite prudish and have grown up with single-sex changing areas, and so most people tend to feel more comfortable with this set up. Women don’t have to worry about their towel slipping with men around, and they can have a proper shower and get ready for the day.

As a premium operator, we’re not as constrained by budgets, so we try to give our members what they ask for. This includes vanity areas in the male changing rooms, which are as extensive as in the female changing rooms and include hair dryers, hair straighteners and moisturiser. In clubs that have a high number of children visiting, we also offer family changing areas, so children aren’t sent into the changing rooms alone.

Looking to the future of our facilities, I think we’re likely to stick to the present format, unless we start to receive feedback from our members that suggests that they would like us to change our approach. We’re also standardising our changing areas so that every club has the same branding.

“As a nation, we tend to be quite prudish and have grown up with single-sex changing areas, and so most people tend to feel more comfortable with this set up”

Single-sex changing areas are preferred by some gym-goers  / PHOTO: shutterstock.com
Single-sex changing areas are preferred by some gym-goers / PHOTO: shutterstock.com

Going gender-neutral

Kevin Yates
Kevin Yates
Kevin Yates,

CEO,

TRIB3


Our target market is millennials and they seem to be very happy about mixing in the changing areas. At Trib3, we are also expanding across Europe and we’ve found that many European nations are used to the mixed-gender concept – many of the top bars and clubs, for example, already have unisex toilets and washrooms.

For gender-neutral changing rooms to work, there needs to be a large enough space for users to shower and change privately, and the room needs to be located close to the locker area. It’s fine for makeup and vanity spaces to be shared – I think they offer a good place for younger people to communicate.

Gender-neutral spaces are cost-efficient and space saving, and they offer a welcoming and inclusive environment to everyone, including the transgender population. They also aid the customer journey, as there might be times of day when there are far more women than men in the club, so it makes sense for them to be able to use all of the club’s showers, rather than having to queue in the ladies’ changing room, while six showers stand empty in the men’s.

Where we do offer single-sex changing is in our Moscow club. We had to take a different approach there because it’s so cold that people can’t leave the club without showering and drying their hair – which can be time consuming. As they spend longer in the changing rooms than members in our other clubs, they want more privacy. We have also had to provide areas for hanging big winter coats and storing ski boots.

“For gender neutral changing rooms to work, there needs to be a large enough space for users to shower and change privately, and it needs to be located close to the locker area”

Many Europeans are quite accustomed to gender-neutral areas, according to Yates / PHOTO: shutterstock.com
Many Europeans are quite accustomed to gender-neutral areas, according to Yates / PHOTO: shutterstock.com
http://www.leisureopportunities.com/images/HCM2018_2stance.jpg
Is it time for gyms to swap single-sex, communal changing spaces for gender-neutral facilities?
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