The owner of a South Shields gym has had the weight taken off her shoulders after becoming the first beneficiary of a Covid recovery grant and mentoring package from Open North Foundation.

Queen Street Fitness has been run for the past two years by Corrina Hills, aged 33, and was attracting a strong and regular flow of customers until the pandemic lockdown in March saw all gyms across the UK close for four months.

Fearing for the future of her venture, Corrina made an application to Open North Foundation which, after a robust and strenuous vetting process, awarded Queen Street Fitness £1,500 cash for promotional purposes combined with pro bono support from Amy McGuinness, marketing lead at Turbo Power Systems, based in Gateshead.

The not-for-profit Open North Foundation is a business-led response to the Covid-19 pandemic and is run by a board of directors, all of whom provide their time free of charge.

Its primary focus is to call upon businesses and individuals throughout the region to pledge financial and in-kind support to rebuild the regional economy. Businesses receiving financial support will generally be considered to deliver long term positive economic impact and create high quality jobs, although exceptions may be considered. In most cases, grants will range from £1,000 to £5,000, subject to funding availability.

Richard Swart, chair of Open North Foundation said: “The directors and all who support Open North Foundation have worked tirelessly since our late July launch to put in place a business-led response to the crisis that we are facing in the North East. We have had many pledges of financial and in-kind support, such as marketing, HR, legal and financial services and we are now in a position to mobilise this to the benefit of, otherwise very healthy small to medium businesses regardless of sector, that are trying to recover from the pandemic. The momentum is growing and we urge as many companies as possible to provide assistance, no matter how small. Every contribution is very gratefully received and every penny goes to those businesses that need support.

“The directors have considered a large number of applications from a wide range of business types to date and we are delighted to announce that Queen Street Fitness is the first beneficiary, with another to follow shortly. This is a fairly new business that was building a strong customer base and appears well run. In making their decision the directors considered a number of factors not least the fact that during the exceptionally difficult times in which we live, keeping fit is a major contributor to wellbeing and good mental health and, as such, Queen Street Fitness makes a very positive contribution to the local community.”

Corrina Hills, owner of Queen Street Fitness, said: “I have been operating for just over two years and the gym was developing well. However, lockdown had a devastating impact as, unlike many other businesses, fitness centres and gyms were the last to come out of lockdown. However, I am young and very determined to make a success of the business and to employ someone to support me. Throughout the lockdown I have kept in touch with my customers and shared fitness routines on Facebook. The day we reopened there was a queue of people waiting outside, desperate to start their fitness plans.

“I am most grateful to Open North Foundation for the financial assistance and also for approaching one of its supporters, Amy McGuinness, who has very kindly come forward to assist me with marketing support. I am sure this will have a very positive impact on my business and allow us to grow and develop.”

Amy McGuinness, said: “I am absolutely delighted to be able to offer marketing support to Corrina at Queen Street Fitness. As a gym goer myself, I have witnessed first-hand how difficult the COVID-19 pandemic has been on small businesses, especially gyms. I am very fortunate to have had job security throughout the pandemic and so, when I was approached to support this fantastic scheme, I didn’t give it a second thought to offer my support. I am excited to start working with Corrina and looking forward to seeing how we can grow the profile of Queens Street Fitness.”

Richard Swart, added: “As we enter a second national lock down, the need to support local businesses, many of whom do not qualify for government support, is greater than ever. The region’s business community and individuals have demonstrated time and time again that they readily support the communities in which they live and operate via their commitment to worthy causes. The vision for Open North Foundation is steeped within that spirit of generosity and caring and we know that we will gain the support needed to give many businesses the opportunity to recover and flourish.”