Sport England’s recent announcement that tackling inactivity is now part of its mandate gives huge cause for celebration in the fitness sector. It means that, for the first time ever, the interests of both sport and fitness are truly aligned – with physical inactivity the top priority for both sectors – and leads to real hopes that our joint efforts can now make a significant difference in getting the nation moving.
This is a huge triumph for ukactive, which has championed inactivity as the biggest health issue in the UK since November 2013, when it used its annual Summit to announce a national ambition to reduce inactivity by 1 per cent a year. The organisation then published its Turning the Tide of Inactivity report in January 2014 and has continued to lobby for this cause ever since.
And government has listened, with the DCMS Sporting Future strategy, launched in December last year, labelling the distinction between sport and broader activity as “unhelpful, outdated and irrelevant” – and, with it, paving the way for Sport England to take on a far broader remit in getting the nation active.
Sport England has taken this change of direction on board: its new strategy, published last month, makes tackling inactivity its #1 priority, with £250m allocated to this task over four years.
As former ukactive CEO David Stalker says in his interview on p34: “It would have been easy for Sport England to retreat to its comfort zone, focus on NGBs, and say it would get to the rest. But it has recognised, with the DCMS mandate, that the time is now.”
Sport England hasn’t abandoned its heartland, with many of its new investment programmes sitting in familiar sporting territory. However, with the organisation now embracing broader physical activity alongside its traditional responsibilities, there are huge opportunities for collaboration among activity providers of all shapes and sizes – not to mention potential funding for any projects that get people moving.
As Sport England CEO Jennie Price told HCM: “What we’re interested in is a genuinely shared objective. If someone wants to achieve something in sport and physical activity, then we want to work with them. If you’re a charity interested in empowering women or regenerating your area, we want you to come to us with ideas about how sport and physical activity might do that.
“We don’t have the legal permission to fund private organisations, but we know the DCMS is open to us working with a wide range of companies, so we’re absolutely open to partnerships.”
And there’s already evidence that Sport England will deliver on this ‘partnership to promote movement’ mission – even before its new strategy was announced, it had already created successful partnerships with the Forestry Commission and the National Trust to get people using forests and outdoor spaces to be active.
So with the new agenda playing to the strengths of the fitness sector, the door is truly open. As ukactive executive director Steven Ward says: “We’re raring to go to partner and deliver what is a very substantial part of the government and Sport England’s plan, and which providers in our sector are uniquely placed to do.”
There will be plenty of opportunities, as the Sport England strategy spans not only the over-arching inactivity brief, but also a new focus on getting kids moving and investing in local projects to create a “more joined-up approach to getting active”.
Partnership details still need to be thrashed out, but it’s now possible to see an exciting opportunity for fitness providers to work alongside Sport England to drive through real change.