How a coding school, gym and skincare company have adapted to the pandemic

PUBLISHED: 11:19 29 July 2020 | UPDATED: 12:28 29 July 2020

Businesses in and around Hampstead and Highgate have been forced to innovate. Pictures: Ez Dyer Skincare, Codetoday, F45 Highgate

Businesses in and around Hampstead and Highgate have been forced to innovate. Pictures: Ez Dyer Skincare, Codetoday, F45 Highgate


The coronavirus pandemic has taken an unprecedented toll on local businesses.

The gym being cleaned with disinfectant. Picture: F45 HighgateThe gym being cleaned with disinfectant. Picture: F45 Highgate

Many have been forced to furlough or lay off workers, others are just about surviving on skeleton staff, and some have been forced to close down altogether.

But, while the majority have come out of lockdown far the worse, some have also found success in adapting how and where they work – and for whom.

The Ham&High spoke to a gym, a coding school and a skincare company to hear just how far the pandemic has pushed them – and the bright glimmer of hope ahead.

‘So far so good’

F45 Highgate is a gym in Gordon House Road, near Gospel Oak Station.

With more than 1,000 people having signed up for trials and memberships, owners Paul and Liza McGrory were all set and excited to open the franchise’s latest addition – then lockdown struck.

Paul, who formerly worked in corporate HR, and Liza, who still works in the City, were not to be deterred and the couple set about planning how they could make their studio classes ‘Covid-secure’.

The two-by-two metre squares marked out for each participant. Picture: F45 HighgateThe two-by-two metre squares marked out for each participant. Picture: F45 Highgate

On Saturday, following the latest round of lockdown easing, F45 Highgate finally threw open its doors.

All participants must now book in advance, shoes are sanitised or changed, temperatures are taken, no sweat towels are allowed, and equipment is deep cleaned between classes.

Exercisers have two-by-two-metre squares marked out for workouts and each is provided with a bottle of water and disinfectant to clean their designated area as they go.

Paul said: “We’ve had to completely redo how people come into the studio and go out.

“But, look, it’s a challenge and as a business we’re trying to work it out and hopefully overcome it. So far so good.”

Paul said the biggest challenge the gym faces is the perception of members and participants – split between two camps.

He continued: “There’s one group of people who are really scared to go outside their front door. For sure, they’re not coming into our studio. That will take some time.

“Then, at the other end of the spectrum, there’s a group of people desperate to work out, see other people, exercise to music, lift weights and use machines.

Exercisers back in action. Picture: F45 HighgateExercisers back in action. Picture: F45 Highgate

“But we need to keep them under some element of control that they don’t overdo it.

“It’s good to get moving, build up the heart rate and get exercising again, but you’ve just got to take it a bit easy.”

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Paul added: “We’re not in this to make tons of money, but to build a community around Hampstead and Highgate.

“We want to see all people of all shapes and sizes coming in and working out so that when we see them on the Heath or Highgate Road we can say hello and help them with their nutrition, health and fitness.”

‘Back on track’

Codetoday is a coding school for children and adults, based in Camden Town and West Hampstead.

Stephen Gruppetta, owner of Codetoday. Picture: CodetodayStephen Gruppetta, owner of Codetoday. Picture: Codetoday

Before lockdown, all its classes were face to face. In the space of two weeks, Codetoday reshaped its business to turn everything online.

Owner Stephen Gruppetta told us his small team worked “23 hours a day” to make sure it survived the pandemic and put itself in better stead for the future.

He said: “Within two weeks we’ve gone from not having anything to developing online courses that have been growing so well, so we’re actually quite pleased and proud.

“In some ways Covid forced us to innovate quickly and we think we’re going to be in a much better place coming out of it because our business is a lot more scalable than previously.”

While his business’ ability to adapt is encouraging, Stephen said: “It has been positive in some ways but like every other business we have suffered a lot financially.

“Even though it’s quite busy at the moment we’re still, in terms of revenue, nowhere close to what we would have been if this summer had been a normal one. But we’re getting back on track.”

‘We’ve made a massive difference’

Ez Dyer, founder of Ez Dyer Skincare. Picture: Ez Dyer SkincareEz Dyer, founder of Ez Dyer Skincare. Picture: Ez Dyer Skincare

Ez Dyer runs her own skincare company in Kidderpore Avenue working with clients who have conditions such as acne and rosacea.

She said entering lockdown was a “shock to the system” that left her business in new, unchartered territory.

With a technical background in IT, Ez moved her business online and set up a “virtual spa” where clients dialled in over Zoom, rather than in person.

While “daunting” at first, the online sessions proved popular and Ez is donating a portion of her income to the NHS.

Ez said: “It’s been very rewarding. It’s overwhelming to hear the feedback I’m getting – people sending me emails or texts. It’s really humbling.

“People have said the sessions made a massive difference in their mental health which was huge for me.

“I feel like I’ve been able to do something to help people and the NHS.”

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