The Kaslo Community Fitness Co-op provides a top-notch resource to a small town
From the outside, the industrial building looks unremarkable, despite the forest behind it, the mountains surrounding it and the glimpses of Kootenay Lake across the highway. Inside, though, it houses a much-appreciated spot: the Kaslo Community Fitness Co-op. There is fitness equipment like treadmills, free weights and a range of weight machines, along with open floor space that people can use in various ways. A whiteboard challenges people to do exercises like box jumps, kettle bell swings and burpees. Graffiti-like sayings decorate the walls.
“It’s a high-quality facility,” says Board member Cloé Bayeur-Holland. “People love it.”
How a town of less than 1,000 residents got such a great place, though, is a bit of a story. Several years ago, a couple opened the gym hoping to make a living from it. Bayeur-Holland was one of the users. “Here we are in Kaslo. We don’t have a lot of facilities and resources. All of a sudden we have this skookum gym. There were a bunch of people in town who got very attached to it.”
Unfortunately, the owners soon discovered the profit they’d hoped for wasn’t coming. They put the gym up for sale. With no purchasers in sight, the gym’s avid users got nervous. What if someone eventually bought the place to sell off the equipment and shut down the rest?
Having studied co-ops in school, Bayer-Holland suggested: “Hey, what if we band together and buy it and run it as a co-op?”
The idea struck a chord, and Bayer-Holland and seven others started the process. People immediately began buying co-op memberships—even those who never intended to use the gym. Some even bought as many as 20 memberships each, simply to help the group raise the funds it needed. “Right off the bat, people were interested,” says Bayeur-Holland. “It was amazing.”
The group also turned to Columbia Basin Trust’s (the Trust) Impact Investment Fund. This fund provides loans to businesses, First Nations enterprises, non-profits and social enterprises. It supports opportunities that have measurable impacts that will benefit the local community or broader Basin region. For example, they may create jobs, address a community need, help the environment or support arts and culture.
With this funding, the co-op could afford to purchase the gym; it became owner on December 1, 2019. It could also afford the extras that came along with it, including legal fees, taxes, a key fob system so members could use the gym 24/7, new administration software and some new equipment. Knowing that fewer people use gyms in summer than in winter, it had money to pay the bills during its first year in operation when the income dipped. It still has a cushion in the bank for unforeseeable future demands. “We weren’t going to buy it without getting that money. It just wouldn’t have been feasible.”
In total, about 130 people have purchased co-op memberships, available for $25. This makes them part-owners, meaning they can attend the annual general meeting to elect the Board of Directors, which then makes decisions about the gym on their behalf. The initial working group of eight people became founding directors. “They are a dedicated and hardworking bunch,” says Bayeur-Holland. “It was a real group effort.”
To use the gym, co-op members then pay gym fees. “We keep the fees as low as we can,” says Bayeur-Holland. “We’re not there to make a profit.” About 50 people regularly use the gym, and others come more sporadically. The youngest regular user is about 13, accompanied by family. The oldest was 80—he stopped coming over concerns about COVID-19—but there are still a few users in their 70s.
Especially during the pandemic, users “love having that place that they can go, that’s somewhere outside of the house, and something to do,” Bayeur-Holland says. And the facility provides more than physical fitness. “Mental health goes along with physical health. It relieves stress. It creates endorphins.” They also benefit from motivation and encouragement. “I could just exercise at home in my living room, but I don’t. It’s just harder to motivate yourself. Having a place to go encourages people to get out and do it.”
To be inclusive as possible, the co-op invites people who can’t afford the fees to apply to its “work-trade” program: if they clean the gym for four hours a month—an especially vital service during the pandemic—they can use the gym for free that month. Six people are currently doing so.
Although the gym doesn’t attract a lot of users overall, it’s still impressive for such a small community—and people want it available even if they themselves don’t use it. “It’s just one more thing that’s an asset to the community,” says Bayeur-Holland. “People feel like it makes it more appealing to live here. I think it really provides a sense of community and a sense of having access to resources. It’s like a richness or something. A quality-of-life thing.”
As for the Trust and its Impact Investment Fund, Bayer-Holland says, “I’m trying to think of the appropriate effusive word.” Without its support, “There’s no way we could have had this resource.”