What to expect when England’s climbing walls reopen

a climbing wall full of holds against a blue image

England’s climbing gyms were given the green light to reopen from July 25 in last week’s easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

So what will climbing walls look like when they reopen? Will our climbing experience change?

It’s clear that climbing walls have been making preparations throughout lockdown. Depot, a climbing wall company with six walls across five cities in England, announced some of their safety plans in late June, prior to being given an official opening date by the government.

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✊🏼 Sorry we have been quiet. ✊🏼 — We've got some exciting news for you! All being well we are set to reopen our centres soon and we are hopeful for a July opening. — Thank you to each and every one of you who has supported us during these testing and uncertain times whether it was buying vouchers and punchcards or unfreezing your membership, this has greatly helped. ❤️ — Thank you also to all of you who took the time to write us messages. We have been truly touched by just how much the centres mean to you. ❤️ — It's time for the good news. We have been busy working to ensure our centres are compliant with the latest industry and government guidelines to provide the highest standards of safety to our employees and you. — Just what does this mean? — We will be observing social distancing measures, we have installed numerous hand sanitation stations and sneeze guards to protect our team members. Surfaces in our centres will be cleaned regularly and diligently. — It's not all health and safety though! We have taken this time to conduct resets in the centre using new holds and we are pleased to say that we have produced some of the best sets that the centre has ever seen. — Thank you so much for your support and patience during this time, we look forward to seeing you all again as soon as possible.❤️ — ✊🏼 Stay Safe. Stay Strong. ✊🏼

A post shared by Depot Climbing, Sheffield (@depotsheffield) on

Depot were telling customers of some of their safety procedures back in late June.

Dave Culver, owner of Blocfit bouldering wall in Brixton, explained some of the changes they will be making: “We’ll be supplying hand sanitisers around the gym and having visitors book slots. We’re a small gym and we’re going to keep the capacity down to 20 people at a time. We’re dividing the day up into two and a half hour slots, with fifteen minutes in between each slot where we can clean up.

“We’re going to mark out the floors so people don’t loiter and there’s designated areas to stand so people can social distance.”

The wall’s closure throughout lockdown has allowed improvements and tweaks to be made to Blocfit that otherwise would not have been possible.

“We kitted out the yard at the back and landscaped it, so people have an extra social space which is useful for social distancing. A lot of places seem to have done jobs and projects that are planned throughout the year and have to be worked around the customers. So trying to put a positive spin on it, it’s been really good for that.”

Blocfit have posted some of their rules on Instagram already.

Dave has been using official guidance from the government website and keeping in touch with other walls to come up with safety measures. 

“We’ve kept an eye on the government website to see what people recommend. We’re just using our initiative and common sense. It’s helped to contact other climbing walls, not always directly, sometimes just on social media, but you get a good idea of what people are expecting.”

Official guidance offered by the government for those who work in gyms and leisure facilities suggests a variety of actions, including:

  • Minimising transition through contact by providing handwashing and hand sanitiser and frequent washing of objects.
  • Informing customers of guidance about visiting the climbing gym prior to and at the point of arrival e.g. through information on websites, booking forms and at entrances.
  • Managing maximum capacity to a number that can reasonably follow social distancing.
  • Encouraging customers to arrive in sports kits and travel home to change or shower where possible, minimising the use of changing rooms and showering.
  • Using signage such as floor markings to help people maintain social distance.

These actions have been applied in a climbing wall specific report by the Association of British Climbing Walls, who have worked with indoor climbing organisations in Europe and North America, where some climbing walls have already reopened. The report has been ‘reviewed by a leading virologist’ and their strategy focuses on three principles: hygiene, capacity management and social distancing.

The Association of British Climbing Walls’ video detailing their recommend guidance.

Despite restrictions, Dave believes the climbing experience won’t be affected: “I think everyone will play ball and it’ll be fine.”

These sentiments are mirrored by Belinda Fuller, Director at Volume 1 Climbing in Felbridge, West Sussex: “By implementing our 35 climber limit, a one way system, screens and hand sanitiser stations, we have designed the process to be as safe but also as similar to before we closed as possible. If people are sensible the climbing experience won’t really have to change at all.

“We are trying to make it safe for everyone. We take this process very seriously with myself and some of our staff members being on the vulnerable list or caring for those who are. We are not taking any risks.”

Both Blocfit and Volume 1 Climbing are also pushing for the use of high alcohol liquid chalk rather than powdered chalk.

Volume 1 Climbing’s safety video, posted on their social media, includes further details, such as requesting visitors wipe down any equipment used in the training area, giving your name to the centre as you leave, and ensuring the building is well ventilated.

Volume 1’s safety video.

Belinda’s experience is that people are keen to get back to climbing: “From everything we’ve heard and experienced people seem pretty comfortable and excited to come back to climbing walls as soon as possible!”

Dave has also received a positive reaction since announcing Blocfit’s reopening: “We have a lot of hardcore members who are really excited we’re opening. Lots of people here know each other so they’re really excited about having their local social spot back.”

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