In January the NHS published its “ambitious but realistic” Long Term Plan which laid out its future for the next 10 years and where it addressed prevention, mental health and the role technology should play. A key factor was recognition that a lack of exercise is a leading cause of premature death.
A strategy is needed to take the pressure off the NHS and establish a genuine solution to encourage people to live healthier lives.
Research from ukactive shows physical inactivity over the last ten years caused “370,000 premature deaths and cost us £200bn.” However, the NHS plan neglected to mention the positive impact physical activity can have and there is huge potential to be realised from this sector.
Becoming physically active relies on both creating a healthy mindset and having a place to play. Schools don’t just have a role in creating that mindset for children, but also providing the facilities to conduct fitness activities. How people choose to spend their time is increasingly affected by convenience and with each school having its local catchment area, they are often the most geographically accessible place to play sport.
Schools own 35 per cent of the facilities in England, the largest proportion of any other operator type, and yet still 40 per cent of these are currently inaccessible to the public. Trusts, councils and commercial operators are all performing better than schools at providing places to play sports in the UK.
"Schools are the slowest adopters of online booking services, making them less accessible"
Many schools often don’t have the knowhow to advertise their facilities to the local community, or the resource or technology to manage bookings. Schools are the slowest adopters of online booking services, and yet the alternative is spending hours managing enquiries.
Data shows the booking conversion rates for schools stands at only 5.4 per cent, owing to the inability to make instant bookings. This is not only inefficient but creates a disincentive for people to organise a game or activity.
Sports charities are starting to play a role, which the Football Foundation demonstrated by rolling out its innovative booking portal for school football facilities across the UK. This in turn improves the opportunity for schools to raise money for their facilities, as being digitally accessible to the local community is now an important factor in funding decisions.
Perhaps schools need to be better educated about how to become more accessible? There are operational reasons that are often named as being a blocker to opening up facilities for public bookings, and one of the most common quoted is insurance, however this is often covered by their third party liability insurance, which is required by schools anyway.
Research from ukactive has shown there’s huge capacity for schools to play a major role in taking some of the strain off the NHS by improving people’s physical and mental health. Therefore, there needs to be better help for school facilities in growing participation rates by becoming bookable, increasing their exposure and improving accessibility through simple online booking technology.
Jamie Foale, CEO, MyLocalPitch
Schools need to be better educated about how to become more accessible, says Foale photo:© shutterstock/Monkey Business Images