A PETITION has been launched to stop a Henley gym from closing.
Staff and members of LA Fitness in Newtown Road are urging South Oxfordshire District Council to designate it an asset of community value.
The gym will shut next Friday as developer Henthames, which bought the site last September, is said to want planning permission for a care home.
However, if the centre became an asset of community value, the company would only be able to sell to local bidders in the first six months of marketing.
The petition, created by Michelle Thomas, of Belle Vue Road, Henley, is supported by several town councillors including Will Hamilton and Sarah Miller who were at the launch outside the gym on Monday.
Ms Thomas said she feared that her six-year-old daughter Eleanor Horsley would not be able to learn to swim as the only alternative was the pool at Henley leisure centre which is oversubscribed and has a waiting list.
She said: ?I just want my child to be able to swim. She can manage a few metres but she still panics in the deep end. I?m taking her to other pools when I can but I?m not a qualified teacher.
?Everyone is up in arms about the closure of LA Fitness ? the strength of feeling has been amazing across all age groups.
?I went down there to get a few signatures and ended up taking two hours because so many people wanted to talk about it. If Henthames puts in a planning application, we will fight it.?
Among those signing the petition was swimming instructor Jane James, who teaches more than 350 pupils at LA Fitness. Most are children but some are adults with the oldest being 76. She said: ?We?ve got a town with a great big river running through it but there?s no room for children to learn to swim, which is ridiculous.
?The nearest alternatives are in Reading and that isn?t practical for some families. Our parents have been very angry that there?s nowhere to go.
?My phone has been ringing non-stop for the past five weeks but my hands are tied. There?s nothing I can do without a pool.?
Personal trainer Vanessa Davies runs classes for people with health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer.
She said: ?It?s so short-sighted. The Government spends so much time and money trying to make people live healthily ? we wouldn?t need care homes if there were more opportunities for exercise.
?There aren?t any other facilities around here that are suitable for older people or those who need more support with their training.
?Budget gyms are fine for young people but clients with long-term conditions won?t get the help they need and will be put off.
?This place is more than just somewhere to work out. It?s a welcoming community and provides a vital support network.?
Ivan Angelov and his wife Tashka Angelova, from Highmoor Cross, have worked at LA Fitness as cleaners for six years.
Mr Angelov said: ?The closure is very upsetting and we?re still in shock. We love this place, it?s like a second home. We make a real effort to take care of everybody and keep them happy and now we?re being kicked out.?
Sandra Cunningham, who has run the Bom Dia café at the gym for nine years, said: ?I?ve been given six weeks to find somewhere new and that isn?t enough time.
?I?m already looking for a job and might have to wind up the company if things don?t improve.?
Nick Roullier, who submitted the application to make the gym an asset of community value, said Henley already had less pool space than the national average of 10 square metres per 1,000 people and that once LA Fitness closes it would have only a quarter of this.
He said the town also had fewer items of gym equipment than the national average of five per 1,000 people.
Mr Roullier, from Shiplake, said: ?If Henthames applies for a change of use they will have to prove there are adequate facilities elsewhere, which clearly isn?t the case.
?LA Fitness has more than 2,000 members and they?ve got nowhere else to go. You?ve only got to look at the level of support we?ve had to see that there is a real need.?
The gym site was previously owned by LA Leisure, a company with the same directors and head office as LA Fitness. It was sold four months after rival operator PureGym took over the chain.