Gyms and leisure centres across the north-east are preparing to finally reopen on Monday.
Indoor facilities have been given the green light to welcome customers back after being closed for five months due to the threat of Covid-19.
Strict safety measures will be in place at facilities across the region, such as physical distancing and hand sanitising stations.
Bosses are looking forward to welcoming participants back for gym sessions and classes – and the Evening Express was allowed into two city facilities to see what has been done to keep customers and staff safe.
At Aberdeen Sports Village, facilities will close every hour for 15 minutes to allow staff to clean equipment.
And booking for the gym and swimming pool has been split into hour-long blocks to ensure members’ attendance is staggered through the day.
Duncan Sinclair, chief executive at ASV, said: “There are a number of changes we’ve made which won’t take away from the experience of coming back but will help people stay safe.
“We have marked out areas and removed some equipment to make sure we are sticking to social distancing rules. Where that’s not possible, every second piece of kit will be made available.
“In the pool, customers will be able to book a fast, medium or slow lane and numbers will be restricted like they are in the gym.”
Duncan added: “It’s been a very challenging few months, especially for places such as ASV which are so socially-inclusive. We have got a huge amount of space because generally we have a high volume of people.
“To see it with nobody in it was quite heartbreaking.
“However, we have our date for reopening and we are excited about it. We’re very much looking forward to opening our doors and welcoming customers back, but more importantly our customers are looking forward to coming back.
“We have had great feedback from our customers during lockdown telling us how important ASV is to their physical and mental wellbeing and how excited they are we’ve got a date for opening.
“They’re telling us how much they’re looking forward to coming back and getting stuck in again.”
Lisa Vass, a personal trainer at ASV, said the staff at the centre are excited to be welcoming customers back.
She said: “I am so excited. I just can’t wait because it’s been the longest five months of my life.
“The safety measures are massively important, not just for the customers but for the staff as well. We will be teaching classes and moving between different groups of people so it’s really important to make sure everyone is maintaining a high standard of hygiene.”
Sport Aberdeen has also been gearing up for customers to return, and will be reopening seven of its venues on Monday.
Classes will return to its Get Active @ Jesmond facility, and instructors Lisa Christie and Pete Smith are looking forward to welcoming participants back – albeit with smaller class sizes and physical distancing in place.
Lisa said: “I am very excited. It’s a community, it’s more than just a class. It’s seeing faces, getting to know people and going on a journey with them.
“People are being encouraged to wear face masks when they come in and walk through the corridors. There’s hand-sanitising stations and social distancing in place in the hall, and it goes above the requirements because the space is larger than the two metres.
“The class numbers are smaller and there are limited numbers in other areas too. We’ve done everything we’ve been told to in order to get reopened.
“I feel safe with it, and I’m sure the participants will feel the same.
“I’ll still be delivering the same class. There might be a few modifications, such as running on the spot rather than running round the room, but that will become part of the norm.”
Pete added: “It’s been a very long five months and it’s great to get back and see everyone.
“The customers are all desperate to get back. They’ve been doing things over Zoom and Facebook Live but it’s not the same as having an instructor screaming and shouting at you!
“It’s not going to be the same as before but it’s going to improve a lot of people’s lives.”
Among those returning will be Hazel Mauchline, who revealed she was looking forward to getting back to her classes rather than a makeshift gym in her home.
She said: “I can’t wait to get back. You get to meet your gym friends, members of staff and instructors.
“As well as it being exercise physically, it’s massively important from a mental point of view for people to get back to the gym and get stuck in.
“I am really comfortable with the measures that have been put in place. There’s so much in place.
“Everyone’s got their own level of concern and we have to respect that but it’s just as safe to go to the gym as it is to go the supermarket.”
Sport Aberdeen has already been able to reopen some of its facilities, such as golf and tennis, and has seen an increase in membership in recent months.
Sales and retention manager Ally Barron hopes the opening of gyms will encourage others to sign up.
He said: “It’s the day we’ve been waiting for for the last five months. We’ve been putting all the protocols in place and making sure everyone knows exactly what’s happening.
“Loads of work has gone into it. We are opening up seven different venues on Monday and everything has had to be spaced out and altered.
“It’s going to look completely different and people are going to have a new normal to get used to but it’s going to go really well.
“When it started shutting down we wanted to make sure our members would stay with us, so we froze all the memberships.
“We were able to open up our golf venues a couple of months ago and that has been absolutely brilliant. Loads of golfers came back and we’ve actually had more members playing than ever before.
“There’s been a lot of engagement with the government and the council.
“The whole reason we exist is to ensure people improve their mental and physical health, and lockdown has been really difficult for a lot of people.”
Ally added: “We want as many people as possible taking part.
“Everything has to be done online – there are no walk-in bookings at the moment. We have to know who’s coming in and what we can do going forward.
“We are trying to do as much as we can and have as many slots available as we could. The maximum we are able to reach at Jesmond is 30, so we’ve staggered it throughout the day so people can get the machines they want at the right times.
“That also gives us time to get it cleaned in between classes. We want to give people as many opportunities as we can.”