Skip Content

New scheme protecting women in gyms generating national interest


An innovative new scheme to make women safer while exercising in the gym is being rolled out across Newark – is already generating national interest.

The cutting-edge Safer Gyms scheme is being support by Commonwealth boxing champion kickboxer Emma Dolan.

Attending the gym is a key part of many people's lives to stay fit and healthy, however it can often become an uncomfortable environment for women choosing to exercise alone, or even with friends.

Women have reported being stared at whilst exercising, receiving unsolicited advice on how to use equipment, being asked uncomfortable personal questions and even being photographed or recorded without consent.

This led local partners brought together by Newark’s Safer Streets project to develop the Safer Gyms scheme, aimed at delivering bespoke training to the staff of gyms and leisure centres across Newark to improve awareness and analyse where changes could be made to improve feelings of safety.

So far three local fitness organisations have signed up and will become a member of Safer Gyms once they have met the requirements. These include NG24 Fitness, Fosse Way Crossfit, and two Active4Today leisure centres in Newark and Southwell.

The venues have received an on-site assessment which involves a review of areas such as:

•             The layout of equipment and types of equipment available.

•             The availability of staff and their level of engagement with members.

•             The level of privacy for members taking part in classes.

•             Types of signage and information on display.

The ability to develop this pilot scheme in Newark has been made possible after the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Nottinghamshire secured £3 million of Home Office funding for Safer Streets projects that help reduce neighbourhood crime and antisocial behaviour, as well as violence against women and girls. It is being delivered in partnership with Nottinghamshire Police and Newark and Sherwood District Council.

“This idea was born after one of our Safer Streets project managers had an experience in the gym that made her feel incredibly uncomfortable”, said Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner Caroline Henry.

“She had noticed that whilst exercising a man in the gym had been taking pictures of her, as she could see pictures of her bright pink gym top on his phone. I’m really pleased to see this kind of behaviour is being tackled head-on via our Safer Gyms scheme.

“I know that far too often women and girls can be made to feel uncomfortable when exercising alone, gyms should be a safe space for women and not places that they are made to feel unsafe, and I’m proud that we began this innovative scheme right here in Nottinghamshire.”

“The organisations who have completed the training so far have had such a positive experience. They have taken away lots of positive changes to make to their gyms safer for women and the scheme has given their staff a higher level of alertness at spotting when women are receiving unwanted attention.”

An anonymous online survey was designed to gather the views of women’s views about whether they feel safe in gyms.

It was open for all of Nottinghamshire residents, with a total of 488 people responding. Of these, 135 women said they had an uncomfortable experience or interaction whilst attending the gym.

The survey asked respondents to select types of behaviours they had experienced which made them feel uncomfortable with 76% of women reporting being stared at, 20% reporting being followed, and 34% reporting having received inappropriate flirtatious comments.

As a result of these experiences, survey respondents shared what effect this behaviour had on them, with 87.5% reporting they felt like they needed to make a change after their uncomfortable experience, 32% avoiding the area in the gym where the incident took place, and 30% even choosing to change the time or day they attended the gym.

Results show that 82% of experiences were not reported to either the police or the gym, with 50% of respondents not knowing how to report incidents to their gym.

Communities Inc and Nottinghamshire Women’s Aid, who developed the training said: "Unfortunately, sexism and misogynistic behaviours surface in all types of environments, and the gym is one of those environments where it is often heightened, with 42% of women having experienced at least one form of sexual harassment or intimidation at their gym.

“It is unacceptable for women to be intimidated in the gym as a result of misogyny and sexual harassment, that is why we are pleased to be offering action to tackle this through our Stand by Her programme in conjunction with Nottinghamshire Women's Aid."

This formed the basis to develop a bespoke training scheme devised and delivered by Nottinghamshire Women’s Aid and Communities Inc named ‘Stand By Her – Safer Gyms’ which aimed at empowering bystanders to identify and take positive action when they see inappropriate behaviour.

The training also gives gym staff and trainers patterns of behaviour to look out for which may be deemed inappropriate and the best way to deal with them whilst maintaining a safe and positive environment for all to exercise as they wish.

Emma Dolan, Commonwealth boxing champion kickboxer and instructor at NG24 Fitness, has given her backing to the scheme and said she was shocked at how many women were affected.

“Some statistics that we saw about women and how they’ve been abused and how it can affect them, it’s crazy,” she said.

“It was powerful looking to look at certain things in the case studies on how people can abuse their power within the gym, and how we can counteract them. It’s been really beneficial.”

Inspector Charlotte Ellam, District Commander for Newark and Sherwood, said stopping violence against women and girls was one of the neighbourhood policing team’s chosen policing priorities for Newark and Sherwood.

“We’re pleased to be able to support this fantastic initiative. The gym should be a safe space where people feel able to improve, not just their physical health but their mental wellbeing too, without having to worry about being harassed in the process,” said Insp Ellam.

“Sadly, the results of this survey show some women are often left feeling the opposite, with the actions of others leading to them feeling intimidated and having an uncomfortable experience instead.

“The Safer Gyms scheme is all about stopping this from happening by providing a positive environment for all, so it’s great to see Safer Streets funding utilised in this way.

“We’re committed to working with the office and Newark and Sherwood District Council to make this a success and hope it can eventually be rolled out countywide as part of the force’s wider efforts to tackle violence against women and girls.”

Councillor Paul Taylor, Portfolio Holder for Public Protection at Newark and Sherwood District Council, said the council was committed to creating a district that its residents can feel safe and secure in.

“I’m pleased to see, once again through the Safer Streets project, we are taking strides towards achieving this,” said Cllr Taylor.

“We must stand together to end violence against women and girls, and it is fantastic to be working together with our partners and the local fitness community to make sure the Safer Gym scheme is an asset to the women and girls of our district.”

Head of Campaign Activation at Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign, Claire Edwards, said:

“Women should be able to get active in whatever way works best for them. We understand that safety concerns restrict women’s freedom and comfort in fitness and leisure centres and pose a significant barrier to them enjoying exercise. 

“The findings of Newark’s Safer Gyms scheme reflect what we have found at a national level – our research with ukactive found that 42 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment or intimidation in their fitness or leisure facility and sadly, three-quarters of women who have been harassed, changed their behaviour as a result.

“At This Girl Can, we’ve been working in partnership with ukactive to tackle this societal issue and we are already seeing great progress across the sector, with many providers supporting women to feel safe and comfortable in their fitness facilities. We are sure that the work being done in Newark will add to this momentum and complements the work we will be rolling out at a national level so that more women and girls can feel safer and more confident while being active.”

About This Girl Can

Launched in 2015, This Girl Can is Sport England’s nationwide campaign to build women and girls’ confidence to be active, regardless of shape, size and ability – by celebrating them getting active in their own way.

Three-quarters of women say they want to do more sport or exercise, but research shows they are consistently less active than men. Fear of judgement and safety concerns are some of the judged was one of the top barriers holding women back, and we have found that 2.4 million fewer women than men find sport and exercise enjoyable.

We’re here to tackle the gender activity gap and the exercise ‘Enjoyment Gap’. This Girl Can challenges conventional ideas of what women exercising look like and connects with women of all backgrounds, abilities and ethnicities who might feel that getting active isn’t for them.  So far, This Girl Can has inspired nearly 4 million women to engage with getting active in their own way - no matter how they look, how well they do it or how sweaty they get. 





About ukactive

ukactive is the UK’s leading not-for-profit membership body for the physical activity sector, bringing together more than 4,000 member organisations and partners in our shared ambition to get More People, More Active, More Often. From gyms, leisure centres, studios, sports bodies, and other activity providers, to major health bodies, consumer brands, tech firms and equipment manufacturers, our community collaborates across the private, public and third sectors.

ukactive facilitates high-impact partnerships, conceives, and drives breakthrough campaigns, conducts critical research and lobbies the Government to recognise the power of the physical activity sector to address today’s biggest issues – including ‘levelling up’ health, reducing the burden on the NHS and social care, reducing crime, revitalising our high streets and communities, tackling loneliness, and driving our physical and mental recovery from COVID-19. For more information, please contact the ukactive press office at or call 020 8158 9713.

About the Guidance

This Girl Can and ukactive have joined forces to work on behalf of the sector to better understand the barriers which women and girls face in taking part in physical activity in this setting, and to translate these findings into actionable advice that the sector can use to attract more women and girls into their facilities.

The guidance - How to Make your Spaces Safer for Women: A Call to Action from the 51% - is available to download at:

Posted on Thursday 18th January 2024
Share this