Last month, Stef Nienaltowski met with Luke Newton, Director of SWEAT Southsea to find out more about their Fitness Festival coming up in June.
Stef Nienaltowski: Good morning, I'm sat with Luke Newton, the co-founder of Fitness Festival, and the Director of SWEAT Southsea. Good morning Luke.
Luke Newton: Good morning Stef.
SN: Luke, before we get started into the world that is SWEAT Southsea and of course the Fitness Festival, can you tell us how you got involved and how you've arrived at this venture?
LN: So, I spent nine-and-a-half years in the police service up in London, and it was time for a change really, so I retrained, became a personal trainer, and it sounds funny to say, but I'm a personal trainer that's not always fond of gyms, so I didn't envisage myself training in a gym environment. So, I was actually using the Castle Field in Southsea at the time, built a fairly healthy client base, and was always looking for a small little space to take personal training clients to. We became aware of the Haslemere Road site where we now live, and that was that.
SN: And here you are. You've said there a gym, you've said there about fitness, we are going to talk about the Fitness Festival later, but what do you see the main differences with your set of offerings compared to the other offerings in the City?
LN: We're completely independent, my wife and I founded SWEAT Southsea, we pride ourselves on being different, and our ethos and our attitude to how we do things has really kind of captured the imagination, and it's really taken off brilliantly. We specialise in one-to-one services, and bespoke classes which are available pay-as-you-go and on a membership basis. That offers the client full flexibility; there's no tie-ins, they can just come and pay for that class and they can disappear and come back three months later if they wish, or they can do unlimited classes, and then our one-to-one services. So, the gym is dedicated to personal training, to sports therapy, and to physio therapy. So, there's no crowds, there's no memberships, there's no additional fees, there's not that kind of intimidation factor that you might get if you're not comfortable in a gym setting, and there's no distractions. There's a strict no phone policy, there's no mirrors, we've replaced mirrors, well we've never had mirrors, but the mirrors are replaced by art, so loads of street art going on inside which is brilliant. We try to put people first, so it's kind of that personal touch with everything that we do. And I guess the main, not the main difference for us, but one of our main focuses is on people. So, finding the right people, and I would say that was our biggest challenge, but we've got an absolutely incredible team now, people that really have bought in to our ethos and what we stand for, and there's not people pulling in different directions. There's no egos, and we're able to then provide that bespoke service to our clients.
SN: It's obvious every time I meet you, the passion that you have for this subject, and some company owners quite understandably are profit focussed, and turnover focused. You genuinely seem to be people focused, and that's what personally I love about you, and I know you're saying your team follows that as well don't they?
LN: Yeah, my wife was in the corporate world before, and she became really unhappy about the way that her company at the time was going, and I just said 'come and join me'. I was training on the Castle Field, but I was also pulling pints in the local pub, and I said 'are you going to be happier joining me pulling pints?' and she said yes - quit then! And I remember one of the last weeks I was in the police service, and the police do an absolutely incredible job, but the numbers, policing is stretched, and I wasn't really that proud of what I did anymore. Now, I can make a real difference, and we're behind the concept that that's where the passion comes from, it's making that real difference, and being in total control of it.
SN: Well, congratulations, it's very obvious and everyone that meets you says the same. So, we've talked about the Fitness Festival, I know you're passionate about this matter. Where did the idea come from, can you tell us a little bit more about the event in June, isn't it?
LN: Yes, it's June 2nd this year, Saturday. The idea kind of, funnily enough I was at the top of the Castle Field steps, the Steps of Doom as they're called, people kind of exercise there, especially when the sun's shining like it is today. I'd seen a tweet from one of our council members, and they were bemoaning the lack of event facilities in Portsmouth at the time, and I started thinking about the fitness events that I went to, and how they're mostly exhibitions, and they're delivering a great product but it's to the people that are already inspired, by and large. And I started thinking about the space where I was, at Castle Field, 'we could do an event here, but it should be free!' and that was kind of like the key thing for me. So, at the time, I did a little bit of research, couldn't find anything similar. There were other fitness festivals, but they were all £20-25 to go to for a ticket, and then looked into statistics around childhood obesity, diabetes in our area, that kind of stuff. I think 100,000 residents aged 16 or over are above a healthy weight at the moment in Portsmouth, which is really concerning, and I thought we've got an opportunity to do something here. So, I phoned a few local professional contacts, and they were like 'this is a great idea, we'd be all over it', and that gave us the confidence to run the first Fitness Festival, which was nearly 4 years ago, and we probably had about 500 people come on the day, because SWEAT wasn't even born at the time we kind of came up with Fitness Festival, and we've doubled year on year, so it's a great day, loads of teams, volleyball team, organisations, small local businesses, regional businesses, charities, national businesses, we've even got a global company joining us this year, loads of special guests, and basically we're just there to inspire and celebrate active, healthy living. It's not a sell-y event, we're not trying to force people into doing this or doing that, it's not leafleting, it's just being and enjoying, and hopefully, touch wood, we have a sunny day and the turnout will be great hopefully.
SN: And that's Sunday June 2nd?
LN: Saturday June 2nd.
SN: Saturday June 2nd, thank you. And I'm really glad you said that because we go away on Sunday 3rd, which means I will be able to come along, so great timing. If we take the Fitness Festival, if we take SWEAT Southsea, where do you see you and your company in say two or three years’ time? What would you like it to look like?
LN: We kind of see ourselves as the disruptors. The fitness industry, in terms of gyms and facilities at the moment, is now splitting, and there's the budget model which is great, and it's accessible, and it's affordable, a lot of the time it's 24/7, that's fantastic. And then there's the bespoke end, where people maybe get a more personalised service. The middle has kind of really been squeezed, and so there's a great opportunity for a company like SWEAT Southsea to do that personal service, and hopefully we do it quite well, so we'd love to end up having three or four different sites in and around the City. The Fitness Festival again, it's a disruptor, it's free and in my mind, I don't see any obstacle why it can't be the biggest fitness festival. There's some huge, big budget events now; Richard Branson's Virgin do a festival of sport now, you can only imagine the team and the budget behind that, and they do a fun run, and all this kind of stuff. The other events are all paid for, so there's obstacles already whereas we will always stay free for people to attend.
SN: Which is brilliant! So, finally, if people are interested in any of the topics we've covered today, or interested to get in touch with you, or maybe more importantly to get started with you, what is the best way to actually get to you?
LN: Any way you can find us, so whether it's a phone call, and email, a Facebook message, Instagram, comment or direct message or a tweet, we try out best to answer people in whatever way we can, so we're all over social media, and the other end of a phone line and email as well. Our Instagram is @sweat_southsea, Fitness Festival is @fitness_festival, and our twitter is just @sweatsouthsea and the fitness festival twitter is @southseafitfest.
SN: Ok, so any one of those, and remind me again, you're actual venue in Southsea is where?
LN: It's Haslemere Road, 166 Haslemere Road at the Highland Road end, and we're online as well at sweat.fitness. There's no .com or .co.uk, just sweat.fitness
SN: sweat.fitness, ok. And people could just call in to the Haslemere Road place and just sign up?
LN: They can do, but because we're pay as you go classes and one-to-one services, we haven't got a reception desk, so can't always see people at the time
SN: So better to get you through the electronic means first, yeah?
LN: Exactly, yes.
SN: Luke thank you so much, I look forward to seeing you on the 2nd June if not before. Thank you for your time today.
LN: Thank you Stef.