Strategy is important. Working towards an ‘agreed plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim’ ensures that everyone is on the same page and makes it easier to measure success. So it is inspiring to see that Sport England’s latest strategy, Uniting the Movement, is looking farther into the future and setting ambitious goals that will take time, and collaboration, to bring to fruition.
Long-term strategy to reach ambitious goals
For those unfamiliar with Sport England’s strategy history, this year’s document sets a plan for 10 years instead of the traditional four. This is because it focuses on five big issues, which will take a longer period time address. Critically, it places communities and inequality under the microscope, highlighting the way that physical activity and sport can help to rebuild a stronger society for all.
In Gloucestershire, we are already familiar with the theory of asset-based community development. ABCD thinking plays to a community’s strengths by directing resources to existing organisations and projects that have shown success.
Sadly, Covid-19 has shone a light on the inequalities in society, with many people facing greater challenges than ever. If any kind of silver lining is to be gained, it may be that seeing the situation in such stark relief will help to drive a more systems-based approach. At Active Gloucestershire, we believe that greater collaboration will deliver more joined-up outcomes.
Sport England has highlighted five areas for improvement:
- Recover and reinvent, which aims to come back from Covid-19 with greater inclusivity and relevance.
- Connecting communities – involving local people in decisions that will see sport and physical activity reaching its potential as a force for good.
- Positive experiences for children and young people.
- Connecting with health and wellbeing – unlocking the connection between physical activity and improved health, particularly in deprived areas where people suffer two or more health conditions earlier than those living in more affluent postcodes.
- Active environments - creating and prtecting the places and spaces that make it easier for people to be active
we can move embraces this approach. We already know that the benefits of sport and activity extend far beyond daily fitness, into areas like mental health and pain management. One of our most recent projects will see the health service referring physical activity through a social prescribing model. Cheaper than traditional medicine for mental health challenges like depression, it has the potential to address conditions such as diabetes at the same time.
Making sure that we connect positively with existing community leaders and organisations is crucial. We can move has been a fantastic example of building a shared movement, and making sure that our approach is not ‘doing it to the community’, but ‘doing it with the community’.
Children and young people in Gloucestershire, particularly, need our attention. Sport England’s Active Lives Children and Young People Survey showed that 55% of young people do not meet the Chief Medical Officers’ recommendation of 60 minutes activity per day. For the first time, Gloucestershire has fallen below the national average.
While this triggers alarm bells, it is important to remember that our county is host to some exceptional projects, particularly in deprived areas. We know from work in New Zealand that directing resources to schools to promote physical activity – rather than traditional sport – can have a lasting effect, long after pupils have left school and made their way in the world.
Designing activity back into our lives, through smarter development and better use of existing public spaces, is another key focus. Active Gloucestershire has taken part in consultation for the redevelopment of Matson and Podsmead in Gloucester, where we are promoting the need for access to green spaces, transport links, and other places where people can be physically active. Examples like this help to illustrate the need for national and local involvement when planning for the future.
Recently, I covered the Eight Investments that Work for Physical Activity, a community-wide approach to physical activity in areas ranging from travel and the workplace, to public education and healthcare. If we are to build an infrastructure – and society – that reaps the full benefits of physical activity, we need to cover all angles.
Even my role as CEO of Active Gloucestershire sees me working locally and as part of Sport England’s national Extended Workforce. When it comes to development, and even funding, we benefit enormously from local involvement and expertise. However, with communities at the heart of our work, Sport England’s long-term vision brings an exhilarating opportunity for long-term improvement.
The we can move and Active Gloucestershire strategy will be published in early summer.