Sunstone Women gym was registered by Hackney council as an ‘Asset of Community Value’ last week.
The registration of the woman only gym, located in Stoke Newington, was proposed by Sunstone Women Community Group, an organisation formed after the closure of the gym in July this year. Sunstone Women is now only the second building to be listed with this protection in Hackney, along with Chesham Arms pub.
The ACV scheme is part of the 2011 Localism Act according to which community groups can nominate ‘community assets’ to the council. If accepted, the organization will be given time to come up with a bid for the asset when it is sold.
Sunstone Women (originally Sunstone Health & Leisure Club for Women) was set up in 1992 to provide a comfortable environment for women to exercise.
For Sunstone’s members, it was more than just a gym, but a community that welcomed women from all backgrounds.
Sunstone had facilities such as a swimming pool, spa and therapy clinic. Amongst its members were MP Diana Abbott and singer Leona Lewis.
But on 13 June 2014 Sunstone was closed, without any warning.
In July, Gregory Sinclair, son of Sunstone’s owner Michael Sinclair wrote about the struggle to keep the gym going. In his blog he supports his father explaining that he did everything he could, but as it was started in recession it ended in recession.
At the time of the closure Sinclair told Hackney Citizen: “After piling in untold thousands of pounds in the last couple of years in particular (which will lead to my selling up my home of the last thirty years) and despite a wonderful, dynamic and supportive team here now and on-going publicity, the numbers would not add up and there was no alternative but to admit defeat to the recession and other challenges.”
When the gym closed, Sunstone Women’s Community Group (also Sunstone Survivors) was formed to help protect the gym from being sold.
Faith Brabenec Hart posted on Sunstone Survivors Reality’s Facebook page: ”Stoke Newington is a very diverse community with lots of Jewish, Muslim and Asian women who would never have been allowed to use a conventional health club. It is a community that has seen extremes in the politics of men, even violence and terrorism, but this club was a heaven for women of all sorts to meet and get to know each other and become friends…It was a beautiful club, built in a church that had become a synagogue and then was repurposed to include exercise rooms, spa sauna…the women of Stoke Newington will miss it.”
Sunstone Women’s Community Group now wants to form a committee of women with business experience to help with the funding process.
Their website reads: “We believe that the gym was a unique asset to our community. It was a special place where women from a wide range of communities, often women who for one reason or another do not want to attend mixed gyms, come together in a relaxed and safe space. We want our gym back!”
The support group wants the site to continue to function as a woman’s gym. After it’s registration, if the development goes on sale the community will have six months to raise funds and buy the site.
Sunstone Women’s Community Group underline the importance of keeping the sole woman only gym in Hackney.
Campaigner Jane Holgate said: ”Sunstone Women Community Group is delighted that Sunstone House has been designated an Asset of Community Value by the Council. There’s a strong community demand for a women-only gym in Hackney––demonstrated by the fact that Sunstone Women existence for 22 years before its unfortunate closure in June 2014.
“Sunstone Women was also a unique place for women to meet and socialise from different cultural backgrounds. It was one of the very few spaces in which women felt comfortable and able to interact with women from diverse backgrounds to share different experiences––and was highly valued by members.
“We hope to begin discussions with the owner of the building as to how we might bring it back into use as a women’s gym. In the meantime we are calling on anyone who is interested or feel they can help us to do this to get in contact”.
A spokesperson for Hackney Council said: “The building that was formerly Sunstone Gym played a significant part in furthering the social wellbeing and interests of the community and, as such, ceased fulfilling that function when it closed down.
“The Council granted the building Asset of Community Value (ACV) status because the ACVpanel was satisfied, according Localism Act criteria, that the building and its car park were likely to be used once again to further the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community. “