Tackling the Royal Holloway Sports Pass

VP Societies & Sport Lucy Brown discusses her frustrations around the new termly fee introduced by Active Lifestyle & Sport, explaining what she has done to reduce the impact on student groups and anyone using Royal Holloway-owned sports facilities.

Active Lifestyle & Sport (the College department side of Royal Holloway Sport) has just announced the introduction of a termly ‘Royal Holloway Sports Pass’ for the 2020/21 academic year.

Any student wishing to access Royal Holloway-owned sports facilities, whether that be using the gym or taking part in student group training sessions, will have to pay Active Lifestyle & Sport (ALS) an upfront fee of £10 for Term One. This £10 has been incorporated into their Fitness membership costs, but will need to be purchased in addition to any other activity including Active sessions, group exercise classes and student group memberships.

The introduction of this pass was not endorsed by the Students’ Union and goes directly against my manifesto pledge to increase accessibility. I believe that activity outside academia really enhances the student experience and I would always encourage every student to get involved in any way they can. Therefore, I am disappointed to see something introduced that discourages student engagement and potentially prevents an increase in student participation. I want to assure you that I will still be moving forward with alternative plans to increase accessibility wherever possible.

After discussions with the Societies, Sports and Opportunities Executive last year, led by previous VP Sport Dom Brown and VP Societies & Media Sophia Bolton, we ourselves took the decision to remove the Student Opportunities membership fee this year as we felt it was a barrier to participation and we wanted to make our groups accessible to many more students.

Since the plans for a Royal Holloway Sports Pass were announced, we have been working with ALS to reduce the impact on students and have already successfully argued for the proposed £20 annual fee to be changed to a £10 charge applicable to Term One activity.

Why has the pass been introduced?

Due to the impact of Covid-19, ALS refunded all remaining memberships to students – this contributed to a significant operating loss in the last financial year.

Faced with large-scale operational changes to ensure social distancing, and extra staffing costs to ensure Covid-19 requirements are met, ALS needed to make significant alterations to their operating model in light of these financial and logistical considerations. Typically, there would be over 2400 Fitness memberships sold, subsidising a lot of the activity delivered by ALS. However, social distancing guidance has restricted operations and far less memberships will be available this year.

The introduction of the Sports Pass will enable facilities to stay open until 11pm in order to facilitate student group bookings. Without this charge, ALS declared they would not have been in a position to maintain full operating hours and could not reintroduce all activities for students, including club training from the planned date of Monday 5 October.

I fully understand that ALS are facing financial constraints, an unfortunate consequence of the Covid-19 outbreak that has been felt by a large number of people and businesses globally. However, I am saddened that students are facing an extra cost to supplement this.

What has the SU done about it?

The initial proposal presented by ALS was a £20 annual pass to enable access to any Royal Holloway-owned sports facilities.

To me, this seemed contradictory to typical Covid-19 responses where short-term planning is being implemented in order to aid flexibility and enable changes to be made more easily as government guidance alters. Royal Holloway campus is no different. Whilst keeping an overarching long-term plan, a lot more goals are being introduced in the short-term – mainly focusing on Term One for now and reviewing around November time, with hopes to increase opportunities for Term Two. ALS is even moving to termly gym memberships, so why introduce an annual fee? Additionally, we are asking all student groups to plan termly, including the switch to termly memberships.

Therefore, if ALS had to implement a charge, it was important to me that it be termly so as to align with all other planning campus-wide. This change of structure to the pass is something I have successfully argued, securing a review of the pass towards the end of Term One which will allow me to have further discussions with ALS about removing the cost completely.

As well as this, I challenged ALS on their original plan to only implement a 3% increase for external booking hire charges. It seemed that students, who have less ability to find alternative facilities, were seen as easier targets and were being forced to swallow the bulk of the increased costs. As a result of my discussions with ALS, external bookings will now be subject to a 5% hire charge increase, with staff memberships also increasing by £4 per month to absorb some of the additional costs that students were being faced with. Whilst I still do not agree with any extra cost being placed on students, this outcome is an improvement from the original suggestion and has somewhat reduced the financial burden.

My group trains off-site, do I still need to buy a pass?

Students only need to buy a Sports Pass if they are accessing Royal Holloway-owned sports facilities. If your club trains and competes off-site, you will not require a pass for that activity.

I want to access the facilities as an individual – i.e. the gym – do I still need to buy a pass?

Yes, if you want to access the gym, group exercise classes or the Active programme on a pay as you go basis, you will have to purchase a Sports Pass.

I’ve been referred by Student Wellbeing, do I still have to pay?

Students who are referred from DDS or Student Wellbeing as part of the ‘Does You Good’ referral scheme will not have to purchase a Sports Pass in order to take part in the scheme.

What are your next steps?

We know this isn’t the news you’ll have been hoping to hear, but please be assured that we have taken all possible steps to represent students’ interests. We have fought to keep costs as low as possible for you, while ensuring the full allocation of student group training sessions can still go ahead as planned.

I will be in constant dialogue with ALS throughout Term One to stay on top of the situation so that, by the end of the term, I can enter discussions with them again to review the Sports Pass. By this time, we will hopefully be able to reduce/eradicate the £10 charge, allowing for an increase in accessibility to all student group activity.

If you have any questions relating to the Sports Pass itself see the FAQs section or please contact sportscentre@royalholloway.ac.uk.

If you want to get in touch with me to discuss the SU viewpoint and my ongoing work with regards to this issue, feel free to pop me an email at VPSocSport@su.rhul.ac.uk.