A hidden pillar of the Worthing community has been given a boost with registered charity status.
The Bar Gym in Bath Place has provided a place of support, fitness and sanctuary for 10 years but has come under pressure from an influx of larger chains.
Co-owners Nick Brewer and Mike O’Hagan have propped up the gym with their own funds but hope charity status will help ease the burden.
“We decided early on that we wanted to make it into a community hub,” said Nick, 50, who founded the gym after a 25-year martial arts career.
“It has been difficult but we’ve kept it going for the right reasons and that’s why we want it to carry on. There are some members who have been here since day one.
“They’ve been through marriages, kids, divorces, but all the time they’ve been coming to the gym. People would be devastated if we ever closed, it’s an integral part of the town.”
Nick said the gym has about 500 members, ranging from children as young as six up to people in their 70s.
They will often let people train for free if they are unable to afford a membership, or if they need exercise for rehabilitation, recovery or weight loss.
As well as a weights area stocked with dumbbells and machines, a boxing ring and combat room upstairs hosts martial arts and boxing classes seven days a week.
The gym has already produced 20 champion fighters, holding world, Commonwealth and national belts.
Two of Nick’s son’s, Ryan and Callum, work at the gym, alongside Brooke Snowsill and Mike.
The family element, said Mike, is what sets The Bar apart from the larger, impersonal chains.
“Everyone here knows your name,” he said.
“Some of these members are like family. A lot of the kids haven’t got a father figure at home, so this gives the kids someone one to look up to.
“It’s just evolved and now it’s bigger than all of us. It completely humbles us. Hopefully someone can can carry it on when we are dead and buried.”
Mike and Nick co-own a security business, which they use to subsidise the gym.
Charity status, which they were granted about six weeks ago, allows them to apply for grants and carry out their own fundraising.
Their plan is to work with schools to identify pupils who could benefit from a gym membership and offer tuition for free.
They are also looking to offer free services to doctors who have patients requiring rehabilitation and have already offered free self-defence classes to women from the town.
It may not be the biggest, most well-known gym in the town, but for the many people who do depend on it, it is massive.