Tanni Grey Thompson outlines vision for physical activity sector to play "the fullest role in improving health of nation"
ukactive chair said pandemic had changed society and that sector must change with it
Tanni also outlined policy areas in which sector needs help from government
She made her speech at the opening of the ukactive Summit in London
Tanni Grey-Thompson has outlined her vision on how the physical activity sector can play "the fullest role in improving the health of the nation".
Speaking at the opening of the annual ukactive Summit in London today (13 October), Tanni said the focus should be on adapting to a "new reality" shaped by the pandemic, in which the focus should be to help the nation become more resilient to future threats of Covid-19 through improved health and wellbeing.
Tanni, who will be leaving her role as ukactive chair in August 2022, said: "We're not a stationary sector, by the very nature of our design, and we cannot afford to be stationary in our mindset.
"Society has changed as a result of the pandemic, and we must change with it.
"I believe the sector will need to be characterised in the following ways.
"We must fully adopt consumer data and insight to help us engage a diversity of audiences, especially older people.
"We must be fully committed to delivering the highest professional standards across both health and safety, and wider societal factors.
"We must drive programmes and services that strive to make facilities as inclusive as possible, and also agile to the growing importance of digital offerings.
"And we must fully establish and integrate our services into health pathways, to support the NHS as well as wider mental and social wellbeing."
She added that working in partnership with the government and other organisations will be crucial – especially in a climate in which both political leaders and the general public have recognised the importance of physical and mental health.
"The door is open for us as a sector with our engagement with Government, and probably more ajar than it was before the start of the pandemic," she said, while also identifying key policy areas which the physical activity sector should look to target – including tax reform.
"I want to see us create a partnership that sees the Government use all the levers at its disposal to support the sector’s development and enable more people to be active.
"In practice, this would mean using not only capital investment, but reforms to tax and wider regulations. These changes would help accelerate both facility expansion and renewal,
"They would also remove financial barriers that restrict people from accessing sport, fitness and leisure.
"We want to work with the Government and partners on a number of reforms and interventions.
"These include an overhaul of the business rates system that would be a huge catalyst for growth and expansion of sites across communities and a reform of the VAT provision on physical activity that restricts access for people from low-income backgrounds to be active.
"We also want to ensure our sector is fully integrated into future incentive schemes that aim to encourage targeted groups to be active.
"The reforms would also include implementing the Workout from Work scheme, which would see the extension of the Cycle to Work scheme to include gym memberships and equipment.
"Government must also aid and facilitate long-term capital investment to future-proof facilities, enabling them to continue to provide essential services to communities, while saving councils money and reducing their carbon footprint.
"This is a major issue as we approach COP 26 in November, where ukactive will be speaking on behalf of our members."
Last month, ukactive published growth modelling, which showed how a VAT reform, the adjustments in business rates and a fitness-led high street regeneration push could see the UK's fitness sector gain 5 million more paying members by 2030