I have a question for you. What connects a poorly placed dustbin in Withernsea, speeding cars in Manningham, a bad experience at school aged 11 and perceptions of professional respectability about footwear? If you’ve ever seen the quiz show ‘Only Connect’, you may well find that challenge somewhat normal (does anyone at home ever get more than two questions right?), but for the 99% of us feeling absolutely baffled by this then let me explain.
They were all manifestations of deeper themes unearthed within our local delivery pilots about how a range of conscious and unconscious actions and decisions made, end up preventing individuals from embedding sport and physical activity as part of a regular lifestyle habit.
Since we started working with our 12 pilots, we have been providing regular updates on their progress. One of the key features of those updates is how the pilots have built up their trust and credibility within their places by immersing themselves in the reality of people’s daily lives. Similarly, they have given a lot of effort to mapping and exploring their own local systems – who connects to whom. As trust has developed and people start to open up, our pilots have been able to see how the ‘local system’ really operated – good and bad.
So, what have we learnt? Here are two nuggets: not everything which is significant is said – a lot of it is quite emotional and cannot be easily explained. Another is that it takes a lot of time, space and linguistic empathy to get into a space of being frank about how people relate to each other, how communities get along and where there are blockages and barriers that go way beyond things like time or money. This is not about quick and dirty consultation.
We’ve learnt that ‘consultation’ is a bit of a dirty word
It is worth a reminder that the local delivery pilots are very different to the usual funding approach of an organisation like us. Rather than focusing on distinct projects with agreed outputs over a defined time period, instead we are investing human and financial resources to build essential relationships within places around shared visions and values, to challenge ingrained cultural resistance, and to work closely with communities themselves in order to engage with these deeper themes.
How all of this relates to bringing sport and physical activity into people’s lives isn’t always immediately clear, but there is a strong ‘line of sight’ back to that core outcome. Only through such depth can we really build back towards long-term change in how people think and feel about physical activity and start to build up that simple activity habit as the norm. Rush it, and old behaviours and superficial solutions will be all we get. We all need to be reflecting and thinking hard – including ourselves.
In line with the new Sport England values, we want to be ambitious about what we can achieve, collaborative and inclusive in how we work and innovative wherever we find nuggets of good ideas.
people live in the 12 pilot areas
You may well be thinking how you make sense of all this listening and turn it into doing? What matters to people can be hugely universal – wanting to be safe in what we do, valuing real life connections – or very specific to their place, such as changing the width of pavements on one housing estate because the thin strips installed are perceived as a danger for walking.
All of these are grounded in strong evidence from a much deeper form of community connection (we’ve learnt that ‘consultation’ is a bit of a dirty word), which in turn has informed the ‘how’ and ‘what’ we have invested in as our pilots take the next step. During the last year the vast majority of our pilots now have received what we are calling ‘pathfinder funding’, to start in earnest to test and learn from some of their ideas.
So, as we begin the 2020s, how do we summarise where we are? We are shifting into unfamiliar but important territory for our sector in connecting with those for whom physical activity has no meaning. There is much reaction and curiosity at what is being learnt, and over the next year we will continue to share the learning and hopefully make that even more dynamic through our Community of Learning. Watch this space.
Oh, and if you are wondering about the footwear issue, let me introduce you to how Active Soles can change the world. Well, there was talk earlier of being ambitious…