Gym Login

Ray Algar reports on the gym chain giving young homeless people a future.

This month’s Gymtopia story pays tribute to Baron Carl Gripenstedt, chair and founder of Lifestyle Fitness, who died suddenly in January of this year aged just 59. It’s a story of inherited privilege and wealth, generosity and homelessness.

A noble upbringing

Gripenstedt was part of the Swedish nobility and was raised at Bystad mansion, an imposing estate in Kilsmo – a locality of just 263 people, 200km south-east of Stockholm, Sweden. The family owned Brevens Bruk AB, a large family estate comprising swathes of forestry, agriculture and real estate. By normal standards, it was a life filled with abundance; if we were all issued with a ticket at birth, Gripenstedt’s would have been golden. So how does this privileged upbringing shape your view of the world and the lives of others less fortunate? Let’s take a look.

A passion for wellbeing

Of all the industries available to him, Gripenstedt chose fitness, starting Competition Line (UK) in 1982 – a company that distributed an extensive range of fitness equipment that was manufactured in Sweden. The company also moved into club operations with its Lifestyle Fitness brand of low-cost gyms, which are now spreading across the UK. I find it interesting that a member of the Swedish aristocracy chose to offer affordably priced gyms rather than premium clubs for the more affluent.

Compassion for others

I was first drawn to find out more about Gripenstedt and Lifestyle Fitness after reading an article on The Sun newspaper website in 2012 entitled: ‘Homeless man given new chance by gym’.

Lifestyle Fitness discovered 40-year-old Dean Saunders sleeping rough in a building it was converting into a new gym in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. Work could not commence until the
man was moved on. Gripenstedt was informed of the situation and made an extraordinary suggestion: that his company pay to rehouse Saunders and, when was he able, to employ him at the club.

Speaking to the local newspaper in 2012, Gripenstedt commented: “He was going to be kicked out straight away, but I’ve been working with homeless people for a long time and I said to staff: ‘No, no – we do not do that.’ If he wants, we will help him. With a little determination he will get through his problems. I would be really proud if we could turn him around.”

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