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‘Gym saved my life’, says dancer fighting to keep them open

Written by on 04/11/2020

A former professional dancer whose life was saved from the depths of despair by the gym is leading the fight to keep fitness centres open during the second national lockdown.

Dean Ellis, 42, was at rock bottom after a car crash ended his career as a dancer and he fell into a spiral of depression.

He thought his life was over but after just an hour at the gym, he found a new focus and drive which has culminated in him now managing S20 Physique – a gym in Holbrook Industrial Estate on the edge of Sheffield.

“I went to the gym and ended up going back time and time again and I really got that adrenaline rush with the endorphins being released,” Dean said.

“It massively helped me. I did cognitive behavioural therapy and had counseilling and a psychologist but the gym got me back into wanting to be alive, which sounds dramatic but it’s the truth.”

Like other fitness and leisure centres across the country, S20 Physique will close its doors at 10pm on Wednesday, November 4, and will not reopen until December 2.

However, Dean believes this four-week closure will mentally devastate multiple members, many of whom rely on S20 Physique for interaction with others.

“I could reel off a list of 15 members that I personally know that have been suicidal. I know that for them, coming to this place, not just as a gym but also as a community, has brought them out of some really dark times.

“Part of their psychological therapy is using the gym once, twice, three times a week and once we’re in lockdown that dark place can creep up again quite quickly.

“A lot of these people are big men who shouldn’t feel alone because they have everything but these are the people who will probably suffer more than most.”

Dean also runs a beauty salon in Woodhouse called Laser Perfect with his partner of six years Joe Castle.

Joe is receiving palliative care for a host of health problems which has triggered mental health issues with Dean acting as his carer.

He said he wishes he could swap places with his boyfriend but admits the gym gives him an escape from the pressures of caring for Joe.

“When I go to the gym and train that is my escape,” he said. “I’m his carer 24/7 and trying to look after somebody else takes its toll.”

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During the first national lockdown, Dean says his phone was off the hook with members ringing him constantly – sometimes in tears – to talk about their mental health struggles.

He has offered the same service throughout the second national lockdown but is worried about the impact gym closures will have on people’s lives.

“For a lot of our guys, this is their safe place and when you take that away it doesn’t matter what you have got on the outside because you may as well have nothing.

“I know members that slept in their cars during the fiurst lockdown because their businesses had collapsed and I worry about that knock on effect.

“I could talk for hours about the financial effect it will have on us that is not the point. It’s the psychological damage it will cause everyone from the age of 16 to 86 who are locked up and on their own.”

To drive his argument that gyms should stay open, Dean has sent a letter to Sheffield MP Clive Betts outlining the incredibly low rates of transmission in fitness centres.

At S20 Physique, since July over 12,000 people have entered the facility and no cases of coronavirus have been reported to the gym or through the track and trace system.

Between July 25 and September 13, only 78 coronavirus cases were reported in gyms across 22 million visits.

“The facts and figures speak and hospitality, fitness and leisure make up three per cent of cases in this country. Schools, colleagues and other outlets make up for a lot more.

“We have people that are 80 years old and widowed and I know it sounds cheesy but this is their only lifeline.”

Dean’s letter in full to Clive Betts:

‘I hope you are well under these extreme circumstances and unprecedented times, I am emailing in on behalf of our fitness, physio and wellbeing facility in Sheffield S20 Physique, we are based on the Holbrook Industrial estate and have been here since 2016 working with CAL the community benefit society since 2018.

‘We bring people together not only for their physical fitness but also their mental health needs within the community we have carefully built over the last 4 years, the supporting family feel has been instrumental in not only countless charity efforts but also the success in assisting many people over come their demons and in extreme cases suicidal thoughts.

Where to get help if you’re struggling

You don’t have to suffer in silence if you’re struggling with your mental health. Here are some groups you can contact when you need help.

Samaritans: Phone 116 123, 24 hours a day, or email jo@samaritans.org, in confidence

Childline: Phone 0800 1111. Calls are free and won’t show up on your bill

Platform 1 men’s community group: Support for issues including mental health problems and addiction recovery. Visit the website or call 01484 421143.

Andy’s Man Club: info@andysmanclub.co.uk

PAPYRUS: A voluntary organisation supporting suicidal teens and young adults. Phone 0800 068 4141

Mind: A charity offering support and advice for people with mental health problems.

Students Against Depression: A website for students who are depressed, have low mood, or are suicidal. Click here to visit

Bullying UK: A website for both children and adults affected by bullying. Click here

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM): For young men who are feeling unhappy. There’s a website and a helpline: 0800 58 58 58

MindOut: Provide support and advice on mental health for members of LGBTQ communities. Phone 01273 234839

‘I am sure you are aware of the stats however here are just a few again for us personally as a facility we have had 12,325 people through the doors since we reopened on July 25 with 0 cases of corona reported to us or through any of the track and trace efforts.

‘Fitness facilities as a whole over the Uk have had over 30,000,000 people through their track and trace systems with only 78 confirmed cases within the industry this equals 1 in 384,615 people.

‘I am sure you are inundated with emails and requests I simply must implore you to listen to our cries, look at the facts and help us to fight for the mental and physical wellbeing of not only our community but the whole of the United Kingdom.’