We want our money back

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MEMBERS of Total Fitness are considering their legal rights following the collapse of the city gym business.

Aggrieved members who have lost out financially and no longer have the service they paid for, say they are are checking their contracts to see what they are entitled to.

The branch on Caton Road, Lancaster Business Park, closed down suddenly on Tuesday afternoon because of a rent row between the operators and the owners of the building.

Staff were ordered to clear the gym of members by 5pm and the premises has since been emptied of much of its gym equipment.

About 4,000 members now face an anxious wait to find out if their membership fees will be refunded.

Total Fitness has been asked if it will reimburse membership fees but has not yet answered the question directly.

The company has told members they can use the Preston gym 25 miles away.

Total Fitness also said VVV fitness club in Hest Bank will honour monthly memberships for March and annual passes until October 31.

Members fear that the company will argue that it does not have to reimburse membership fees because it has offered them an alternative.

Total Fitness, which is based in Wilmslow, Cheshire, and operates 23 other gyms, said high rents had made the branch unviable. It also shut down three gyms in Dublin on Wednesday and appointed a liquidator to its Irish subsidiary.

Lancaster gym member Ian Boydon, 33, from Bowerham, a member for 18 months, said: “It’s shocking really. It’s come completely out of the blue. Both myself and my fiancee had paid £300 each for annual membership, and we’re owed at least £150 each back.”

The building also houses a physiotherapy centre, beauty salon and Total Tots nursery.

The nursery is continuing to operate as normal, but Isobel Hamid, who runs Ultima Physio, was given until Tuesday next week to clear out her things.

“No one from head office has contacted me which I think is really bad,” she said.

Pura Vida health and beauty salon owner Vicci Spedding said the salon would continue trading until tomorrow, Saturday.

A spokesman for Wilmslow-based Total Fitness said: “The club has been asked to vacate the premises following unsuccessful negotiations with the landlord and their bank to reduce the onerous lease agreement, which commanded rent significantly higher than market rate and meant that the running of the club was no longer financially viable. “Several attempts were made to negotiate with the landlord and their bank to revise the lease in line with market rates and safeguard the future of the club. However, the landlord was unwilling to accommodate what we felt were very reasonable proposed terms.”

Dave Whelan, chairman of rival gym operator DW Fitness, said the Total Fitness building had been owned by Isle of Man-based billionaire Albert Gubay. There is now some doubt as to whether he still owns it.

Gubay, who made his first fortune with Kwik Save supermarkets, founded Total Fitness before selling an 80 per cent stake to Legal & General Ventures in 2004. He held onto the freehold of the gyms and the new owners struggled before going into administration last October. The business was then taken over by a new management team backed by Barclays Ventures.

Mr Whelan said his chain would offer former Total Fitness members six weeks free membership at its Morecambe branch.

The Holiday Inn on Caton Road and DW Fitness in Morecambe have also been offering free trial memberships.

For information about county court procedures go to:

www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk/infoabout/claims/index.htm

Have you been affected by the closure of Total Fitness and are you taking legal action?

Call The Visitor on 01524 834092 or The Lancaster Guardian on 01524 32525.