Meet the trader: the Hoxton gym that opened four days before Covid-19 struck

Tim Greenaway, manager of Hitio Gym. Credit: Sammy Gecsoyler

Beside a giant sculpture of Alfred Hitchcock’s head sits a dozen or so steps that lead to Hitio Gym. The gym is on the former site of Gainsborough Studios in Hoxton. Some of Hitchcock’s most famous films were shot here, including Sabotage and The 39 Steps.

Hitio Gym opened on 27 January 2020, four days before the first case of Covid-19 was recorded in the UK. Tim Greenaway, 46, of Wimbledon, is part-owner and manager of the gym. He sits at the entrance most days; he knows most members names and greets them with a big smile and a hearty hello.

Hitio is a gym franchise originally from Norway. “We flew out and looked at the gym and concept and thought there was nothing like this in the UK. We found this club in Hoxton. We came down and fell in love with it,” Greenaway said. The gym markets itself as family friendly and offers classes for children and teenagers. Parents can work out in the gym while their kids attend classes, allowing every member of the family to get fit.

Challenges presented themselves before Covid-19 took hold of the world. “It was difficult as we opened at the end of January while most people would normally join a gym at the beginning the month,” he said. Despite this, business looked promising.

On 23 March 2020, Boris Johnson announced the first national lockdown. The impact on Hitio Gym was devastating. “We lost the majority of our membership base as people lost jobs, lost lives. The impact was massive,” he said. “You try and be positive and upbeat, but it’s taken a massive toll on the business and there was no real loyalty with the members as we just opened up.”

Once lockdown restrictions were lifted, there was a huge demand for people wanting to exercise. Despite this, necessary Covid safety costs added up. “We had to spend a huge amount of money on signage, an app, regular cleaning and ensuring the club had circulation. The cost was astronomical.”

In the months that followed, the successive lockdowns took their toll. Many people are still concerned about returning to the gym, he said.

The emergence of Omicron during a key trading period further impacted the business. “This was the first January we’ve been open in three years and it’s the worst January I’ve ever seen in the industry.”

“As a business we’re not breaking even. You can’t plan and budget in a pandemic because you don’t know how many members you’ll get per month.

“We need support from banks and landlords. We need reductions in business rates and VAT to help us get through this until we are in a position to break even.”

Hitio Gym has become a cornerstone of the community. They have worked extensively with Hackney Foodbank, donating food and supplies throughout the pandemic. Members have donated 64kg of food, enough to feed a family for three days. Last January, they donated a percentage of member’s joining fee to the foodbank and held a charity event which raised £500. At this point, the gym had been closed for longer than it was open and still managed to provide support to the foodbank despite their own financial hurdles.

Greenaway has worked in the health and fitness industry for over thirty years. He wanted to use his decades of experience in the sector to open a gym that would do something for the local community and turn a healthy profit. Sadly, the pandemic has tarnished his dream. He said, “When you’ve got your own business, something you’ve been dreaming of since you’re 16 years old, and this happens, it makes you feel very sad.”

“The test it has put on the three business owners, our family and friends, has been very intense. We begged and borrowed every single penny we could to keep the club going for ourselves and the members.

“We’re three normal blokes, we don’t drive around in fancy cars. We thought let’s do our best at this and make things work. You do it for your partners, for your loved ones, you want to give something back.”

Despite a turbulent beginning, Greenaway is optimistic for the future and believes his team is capable of soon turning a profit. “We couldn’t have done this without the Hitio team and we’ll continue to try and make this a success.”

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