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Beating the double threat

Neil Tester, director of The Richmond Group of Charities, blogs on how the pandemic and digital exclusion have joined forces to restrict physical activity for people living with health conditions, and how they're fighting back with the help of a new insight pack.

28th June 2021

by Neil Tester
Director, The Richmond Group of Charities

It’s been fascinating and thought-provoking to read the new insight pack we’ve published to inform the plans of everyone involved in supporting physical activity for people with physical and mental health conditions.

It shows just how big an impact the lockdowns, shielding and the complex emotions sparked by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic have had on people’s ability and motivation to keep moving, or to move more.

The impact has been especially stark for people who don’t have access to, or don’t find it easy to use, the digital tools and resources that have helped many people in the wider population to maintain their mobility.

Roughly one in five people with health conditions – particularly, but not exclusively, older people – are digitally excluded. Our insight pack sets out how this has made physical activity more challenging due to a narrow set of physical activity influences and the restrictions on face-to-face healthcare and social support.


At the height of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions, around four in ten people with long-term health conditions were reporting doing less physical activity than normal.

Tackling the acceleration of inequality driven by coronavirus has been central to the approach we and Sport England have adopted.

The pandemic created a support gap which went largely unfilled by phone or online support. That affected motivation, with some health issues going unchecked and fewer opportunities for professionals to talk about physical activity.

The inclusive, empowering and gentle tone of the We Are Undefeatable campaign, adding to online activity by making effective use of the mainstream broadcast and print media channels that could still reach people without digital access, was an excellent fit for this audience.

We developed new resources to support and inspire people to be active within their own homes. We also made sure that we created printed, and printable, materials that were distributed by our charity partners and, through Sport England’s networks, in areas of deprivation with high levels of people with long-term conditions.

During 2020, we could see the difference the campaign was making but we were still aware that we were swimming against the tide.

In that year, compared to the general population, more disabled people and people with a health condition became inactive (undertaking less than 30 minutes’ activity per week) and more stopped being active (more than 150 minutes per week).

By May this year, only just over half of people in these situations felt that they had the ability to be active, compared to the vast majority of the general population.

The insight pack shows how this, in turn, has reduced motivation.

The impact has been especially stark for people who don’t have access to, or don’t find it easy to use, the digital tools and resources that have helped many people in the wider population to maintain their mobility.

Sobering and challenging as that is, I’m pleased to say that our insight includes some good news.

Awareness of our campaign’s messages has been increasing and we are again seeing growth in people taking action as a result.

Very importantly, a number of our engagement metrics are stronger among those who’ve been hit hardest by the pandemic and its consequences: people from lower social grades, people from culturally diverse backgrounds, and people with multiple conditions.

I’m delighted to see this, as it’s been such a focus of our planning and delivery – but we need and aim to do even more on this front.

We’ve also made good progress in ensuring that the campaign feels relevant and relatable to people who are worried about the impact of the pandemic on their lives, those having to shield, and those who have had the virus themselves.

What's next?

Look out this summer for the next phase of the campaign.

This year we are focusing even more strongly on mental health and resilience and on building motivation in what are still challenging times for our audiences.

How can I help?

Whatever your role or sector, we hope that understanding the changing attitudes and behaviours of people with health conditions will help you identify how to adapt your messages and offer effective support to the people who need it.

A great place to start is reading through the insight pack yourself and understanding the activity challenges facing people living with health conditions. 

We then need your help to ensure the organisations and networks you support: 

  1. use this new insight pack to ensure their services and offers make sense to, and work for, people in this group  – please share it with them
  2. register on the We Are Undefeatable Supporters Hub (if they haven’t already) to access all the assets, narrative and ideas to engage with the campaign. They’ll also receive our We Are Undefeatable newsletters 
  3. are aware of and help amplify the next campaign burst (our We Are Undefeatable newsletters have ideas on how to do this).

Read the We Are Undefeatable Coronavirus insight pack - June 2021.

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