I’m Steve, your VP Sports at Students’ Union. My job is to help give students opportunities to compete in sport at all levels and represent your student voice to the University and the wider community. In my first blog I will be talking about the controversial recent changes in the Sport and Wellbeing membership from a student perspective. I’ll explain what has changed and why, and look at who is losing out and who will benefit under the new scheme. I will also discuss some exciting new developments in sports at the University of Southampton that will hopefully make participating in exercise more accessible than ever before.

What are the main changes?

From 01 August 2017, the membership options on offer from Sport and Wellbeing have changed. Previously, only one membership option was available, at the cost of £165. All Sport and Wellbeing members needed to purchase this membership annually and with it gained access to all gyms, swimming pools, facilities, and some classes that belonged to Sport and Wellbeing and their partners, Active Nation. There was little flexibility in it and many students that competed in sports but didn’t use the gym facilities felt that they were paying above the odds for the product they received.

Under the new scheme, three types of annual passes have been introduced. Peak Performer (£230) allows the same level of access as the previous annual membership, and now includes free access to all fitness classes, such as spin. Frequent Fitness (£165) offers the same level of access as Peak Performer but with time restrictions – Frequent Fitness users can’t access the facilities between the peak hours of 16:00 – 20:00. Sports club and intramural fixtures and training sessions are exempt from this time restriction. Sports Pass (£110) allows users access to block booked sports club and intramural training sessions and fixtures only, including focus sport. Students can upgrade annual passes at any point in the year if they wish.

Users are also now able to pay for the gym monthly at Mayflower gym for £20 per month. Finally, the new Pay as You Go system offers a greater degree of flexibility by standardising the prices and increasing the options on one-off sessions. Most notably, students will be able to purchase a one-off gym session or entry to a class without membership for £6 a session.

What do the changes mean for you?

  • Most regular users of the gym and facilities will now either pay more money annually or have less access to facilities if they purchase Peak Performer or Frequent Fitness passes.
  • Students now have more access to purchase one-off sessions to use Sport and Wellbeing facilities, and this should help to make more informed decisions before purchasing annual membership, and offer a cheaper alternative to annual membership for infrequent users.
  • Peak Performer members will have the luxury of having less crowded facilities during peak times (16:00 – 20:00).
  • Members of Athletic Union sports clubs can now compete in their sport for £55 cheaper if they don’t want to use the gym or facilities outside of booked training sessions.
  • Intramural players will pay £80 more than last year for access to facilities if they purchase a Sports Pass, however the cost of signing up to intramural is now free* for players, so purchasing Frequent Fitness membership would represent a monetary saving for intramural players who bought annual membership last year in addition to their intramural fees. I recommend most intramural players purchase Frequent Fitness or Peak Performer membership in order to have access to the gym and casual bookings for training.

*All intramural players are required to have an annual membership pass to access facilities. Refundable deposits are required for teams to enter, price TBC.

Why did Sport and Wellbeing make the changes?

There are two main reasons for the changes. Firstly, Sport and Wellbeing are trying to ease the use of facilities in Jubilee which are generally far too overcrowded during peak hours. Increasing the price of using the facilities during peak times is one way to achieve this. Secondly, Sport and Wellbeing wanted to offer more flexibility to students based on what facilities they use following student feedback. The system is a step in the right direction.

What did the Students’ Union do about the changes?

My predecessor, Tom Provan, was made aware of the plans in late 2016. He let students know what was going on and used this pressure to negotiate with Sport and Wellbeing for the addition of the Sports Pass to the membership offering. We were pleased with the addition of the Sports Pass, but not entirely satisfied with the changes being made.

What am I going to be doing to help students going forward?

I have been in numerous meetings and discussions with the management of Sport and Wellbeing and the relevant directors of Student Services since taking up my position. Between us it’s clear that the new system has the potential to cause a drop in membership numbers and competitive performance, so we are working closely to monitor the situation and ensure that we understand students’ best interests and are moving in that direction. Sport and Wellbeing are listening to us, and are open to new ways of working if the current system isn’t as good as it can be.

In the interest of students I will be lobbying the University during the next year on two main points regarding Sport and Wellbeing membership:

  1. The Sports Pass should include the ability to casually book facilities.
  2. Students should be able to split up costs and pay for their membership bi-annually, rather than paying for annual membership in one large lump sum.

What else is new?

As mentioned previously, intramural is now absolutely free for players that hold annual Sport and Wellbeing membership. We are hoping that this will increase sign ups and improve the number of competitions in intramural leagues. Why not start up a new team this year with your housemates or friends? Join our intramural organisational page here for more information. Sign ups are taking place soon.

Finally, Sport and Wellbeing are now part of a new nationwide scheme endorsed by BUCS called UNIversal gym membership. Starting from October, Sport and Wellbeing Peak Performer members will be able to use the facilities of any other University gym within the scheme at no extra cost. The idea is that students will be able to use these gym facilities (mainly whilst returning home out of term time) and save money on membership to private gyms and have more opportunities to work out. A list of the 45 participating universities and more information can be found here.

At the Students’ Union we fundamentally disagree with the idea that sports shouldn’t be a focus at Southampton and so do a majority of our students. Studies have shown that participating in sport at university has far reaching and varied benefits for students including physical and mental wellbeing, social skills, discipline, employment skills, general satisfaction, and even academic performance. We want to see sports play an integral role in the lives of students who want it, and to remove as many financial barriers to participation as possible.

More questions? Email me at aupres@soton.ac.uk, or I can be found in the Sabbatical Office on Level 2 of Building 42 during office hours.

Steve.

**Photo credit: Southampton University Olympic Weightlifting club**