World Class Bouldering
Inclusive Environment
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October 5, 2021

Freeklime – Our story so far

Before I jump into talking about all things Freeklime, I thought I’d give you guys a bit of background on how our centre came to be. I’m an extremely passionate climber, so much so that when it came to choose a university, I picked Sheffield, so I could be close to the Peak District! While studying, first in Sheffield and later in Edinburgh, I found another passion in the mechanics of small businesses. I started to reflect on the industry in which I had been subconsciously immersed in for over a decade: the indoor climbing industry.

The UK’s indoor climbing industry is pretty small, contributing £100m to the UK economy in 2019, small fry when you consider the country’s gym industry is worth a whopping £2bn per annum. However, climbing is one of the fastest growing sports in the UK, and with its exciting recent inclusion in the Olympics, no doubt growth spurt is on the horizon for the indoor climbing industry!
Although Freeklime opened to you awesome folks back in October 2019, I’ve been working on setting up a bouldering brand as far back as December 2017, when the business was first registered. Although I wanted to open at the start of 2019, hurdle after hurdle delayed opening. After deciding on Huddersfield, I visited loads of options for sites, before finally choosing our home on Lincoln Street in May 2018. It was a long, tiring (and expensive) road to get to this stage – I was advised planning permission would take approximately 8 weeks, but in the end it took 8 months! Anyway, by April 2019 all that was behind me, and work could finally begin!

After replacing the floor and the roof of the building, climbing wall experts Walltopia could get started. Incredibly, the technicians drove 36 hours overnight from their headquarters in Bulgaria to Huddersfield (only 2 of the technicians could drive!). After 6 weeks of construction and a week of route setting, Freeklime was ready to open on the 21st October 2019, sort of – we had no wifi or website for a week!

Those first 4-5 months of trading were worse than expected, and then the C bomb (no, not that one!) hit hard. The impact of Coronavirus was absolutely devastating. From a business perspective, revenues fell dramatically overnight, and the critical momentum that had started to build up in the first few months of 2020 was lost. The silver lining was those members who kept their subscription active throughout this period – it was a huge help and gave me a huge amount of personal reassurance. To give an idea how profound the financial impact of COVID was, Freeklime managed just 4 months of trading in 13 months from March 2020 – April 2021. On the upside, we weathered this storm, and the business has performed better than expected post lockdown 3. With easing of restrictions we have been able to reach profitability, while delivering on our core brand promise of being the most inclusive climbing brand in the UK.
I feel optimistic about the future of the Freeklime brand. Our Huddersfield site is growing nicely in all areas, the team are delivering a great experience and it’s becoming a great community of climbers, both old and new. For us to flourish, and for the brand to hit a new gear, we will need to acquire investment to build new sites, as well as investing back into our Huddersfield site. All good news for you guys! Fingers crossed the road ahead is a tad less bumpy than the past 18 months, but I wouldn’t change any of it. Ok, maybe the bit where we were forced to close!

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