Humphrey Cobbold tells BBC Question Time about the impact of coronavirus on Pure Gym
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Humphrey Cobbold tells BBC Question Time about the impact of coronavirus on Pure Gym

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Humphrey Cobbold, CEO of Pure Gym, appeared on BBC Question Time last night (26 March 2020), along with Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, Emily Thornberry, shadow foreign secretary and Robert Jenrick, housing, communities and local government secretary.

The ‘audience’ was beamed in via video conferencing to ask questions and the panel observed social distancing, with a reduced number of panellists to reflect this.

Cobbold, who closed Pure Gym’s 265 sites on Friday 20th told Question Time this had only taken 10 hours, saying: “A business that took us 10 years to build only took 10 hours to close down.”

He praised his staff for their swift response, saying: “I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for all my colleagues across our business and other businesses that experienced the same situation.

“We had to close in the national interest – we knew it would happen at some stage.

“To have young people close down their place of work and essentially put themselves into jeopardy for the future is a very challenging thing for them to have done,” he said.

Cobbold explained his concern for the fate of the 3,000 plus self-employed personal trainers who were working at Pure Gym at the time of the closure, but said the chancellor’s support package for the self-employed was very welcome: “I was very pleased to see the steps the Chancellor took this evening in terms of putting together a package for self-employed people."

He hinted this may still leave some vulnerable, however, saying: “It’s a very complex situation – the average tenure of the personal trainers who work in our gyms is typically eight or nine months, so many of them won’t have the trading history needed in order to claim.

“Many of them are also recently qualified and new to the game of being self-employed as well and so they might not be familiar with many of the features that are required [to make a claim under the new scheme].”

Cobbold explained Pure Gym will be assisting its personal trainers with their applications for government support in every way possible, saying: “We’ll be supporting and helping them with the interpretation of the package the chancellor has put together and I’m heartened to hear [from Robert Jenrick] that there will be attention paid to people who may not have the perfect trading history.”

He took a definite position in defining the relationship between personal trainers and the business, saying: “We’ll be looking to do our part for them as much as we can, as the operator of the environment in which they earned their living previously.

“We’re absolutely committed to trying to help them in every way we can, as part of our overall ecosystem as a business.”

Cobbold had been critical of the government’s financial approach to the crisis in the week leading up to the closure, saying: “[Pure Gym] is too large for the new smaller companies’ scheme, but to qualify for the larger company scheme businesses have to have an investment rating.

"We're actually caught in the middle between both schemes. They're not really open to us," he told the BBC on 23 March.

“We burn £9m-£10m a week, so we have quite a task to drive down that burn rate, so we can make our cash and liquidity last as long as possible.”

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Humphrey Cobbold, CEO of Pure Gym, appeared on BBC Question Time last night, along with Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of the Lancet, Emily Thornberry, shadow foreign secretary and Robert Jenrick, housing, communities and local government secretary.

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