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For more than a decade, the EXPINKT exercise training programme has been running at the University of Otago School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences gym.
The programme acronym combines the "Ex" and "T"of exercise training with "Pink", the international symbol of breast cancer awareness, to convey "Exercise training beyond breast cancer".
It has provided hundreds of people with training and physical exercise programmes, as well as giving students the opportunity to work with cancer survivors in an exercise setting.
But the university has confirmed the imminent retirement of the programme’s leader, and financial challenges, means the gym will close.
Division of sciences pro-vice chancellor Prof Richard Barker said the programme was established in 2009 by Associate Prof Lynnette Jones.
EXPINKT users are cancer patients who are referred from individual Southern DHB oncologists. They use the gym under a human ethics approval as voluntary research participants.
"Associate Prof Jones retires in early 2022 and with her retirement the school has made the difficult decision to close the clinic, which has been well-regarded and is popular with users and health professionals."
There were two reasons for the closure, Prof Barker said.
"Firstly, the clinic does not operate on a financially sustainable basis and the university is not in a position to continue to support the clinic without significant outside investment.
"Attempts to obtain external investment via research grants and a donor support campaign have not proven successful. While there is widespread support for the programme among both participants and health practitioners, no key funder has been identified."
The nature of the clinic as part community service, part research programme and part commercial service meant it was unable to apply for funding as grants are usually specific to a specific service.
"Secondly, with Associate Prof Jones’ retirement the school is taking the opportunity to reposition strategically to broaden its research and teaching to a more general clinical exercise physiology programme."
One gym user said she was bitterly disappointed by the decision to close the programme.
"It is part of my weekly routine and I do not think there is anything else in the city that provides a similar service of physical support and social-emotional friendship to fellow breast cancer survivors."
Natalie Yeoman started using the gym about seven years ago after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
As well as the physical benefits, it also provided a social support system.
"The life of someone with cancer can be quite lonely," she said.
"It can cut you off from some of your existing friendships that find it hard to cope with that, so it’s just always good to have this network of others who get to know you well."
She was shocked and dismayed when she learned the gym would close.
Her husband, Selwyn Yeoman, has written to acting vice-chancellor Prof Helen Nicholson to express concern about the move.
"I know how much it has meant for us — if Natalie hadn’t had the gym, I don’t know how she would have survived the last seven years," he said.
"She’s met some wonderfully inspirational people."
In his letter, he said the gym represented a "remarkable engagement between the university and the local community".
"Decisions such as this undermine these relations and leave a very sour taste," he wrote.
"It is not too late for the university to revisit this ill-advised decision."