Strength In Numbers: Coffs Coast Health Club On The Importance of Community Connection
No strangers to adversity, Duncan and Carla Marchant acted swiftly when their business was shut down overnight. The Marchants were determined to keep the Coffs Coast Health Club running even if it meant taking their members in a new direction. Coastbeat spoke to Duncan Marchant about why maintaining connection is more important than ever.
Duncan and Carla Marchant were watching the news with their children Loki and Olivia when they heard the Prime Minister say that all gyms would close the following day in an effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19. The announcement came as a shock to the Coffs Coast Health Club owners and they rushed to come up with a solution.
“We went into overdrive and hardly slept for the week after that announcement,” Duncan remembers. “The first thing we did was put ourselves in our members’ shoes and concluded they’d want to know what the plan was and would also want their memberships placed on hold.”
From there, the health club went online. An app was created where members have access to classes and personalised programming. The Marchants set up a community Facebook page for members and the wider community which includes free online classes. Local instructors are paid to teach each class so that home-viewers see a familiar face. Duncan says they haven’t made much money but that’s not what’s driving them.
“Throughout this time, we’ve seen the importance of maintaining a connection with the community,” he explains. “We want people to know we’re still going to be around when all of this is over; that they can come back and kick off all of their friendships.”
Duncan says some people have even volunteered to keep paying membership fees if it ensures the Health Club can remain in operation.
“We’re the ‘third place’ for a lot of people,” he says. “They have their home or their work and then their ‘third place’ is us. They need a positive environment that helps them both physically and mentally.”
A strong and supportive community is something Duncan and Carla now consider essential to their wellbeing. In 2003, the Marchants faced an unimaginable tragedy when their Canberra home was destroyed by fire.
“The morning of the blaze we called the local authorities to ask whether or not we should stay home and prepare to defend our property,” Duncan recalls. “They said the fire was burning in the bush and wouldn’t impact suburbia.”
While the Marchants were visiting friends, the weather conditions changed. A massive firestorm swept through their street and neighbours lost their lives attempting to fight the blaze. The Marchant’s house was burnt to the ground; they lost everything.
“At the time we owned a Canberra health club and our members and team were incredibly supportive,” Duncan says when asked how he coped. “Carla’s family were amazing too; we lived with them for 14 months and then rebuilt on the same block.”
“We now understand the importance of having good people around us,” Duncan concludes. “That’s why all of our health clubs and businesses really focus on the benefits of having a strong community.”
In 2009, Duncan and Carla made the decision to move to the Coffs Coast. Duncan had once lived in what was then known as Bayldon (now Toormina) and felt the pull of his home town.
“I’ve always dreamt of coming back,” Duncan says. “When you grow up by the beach it becomes part of your make-up.”
They purchased an old gym and set to work upgrading it. The first Coffs Coast Health Club opened at Toormina and a second Club was added at Moonee Marketplace in 2015. In response to the kindness and generosity that has been shown to them, the Marchants try to give back as much as possible.
“We do a lot of sponsorships, work with a lot of schools, and have a great team involved,” Duncan explains. “We all donate our time and resources.”
The NSW State Government recently announced that from June 13, indoor fitness activities will once again be permitted. Duncan admits waiting for restrictions to lift has been frustrating but says Coffs Coast Health Club is ready to roll.
“We’ve gone through the complete COVID Safe plan and everything that is required by the government has been done in our clubs,” he confirms. “If we were told we were allowed to open tomorrow, we could do it.”
There’s no doubt the unexpected challenges presented by COVID-19 have been difficult to overcome, but the resilience and strength of Duncan, Carla and their team has seen Coffs Coast Health Club weather the storm while bringing the community together.