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People and places, an introduction to our story

With our previous strategy came the local delivery pilots - 12 locations around the country to test and learn how to promote physical activity being a part of everyone's day-to-day life - so with the introduction of our new strategy, Chris Perks introduces our update on how the pilots are going.

15th February 2021

by Chris Perks
Executive director of local delivery, Sport England

Most of you will have heard of the phrase ‘building the plane as you fly it’.

They say real change takes place in real work, and for the last few years the experience of working with our local delivery pilots has certainly felt like this.

Yet it is very easy as you are going along, immersed in the challenges of the moment, to forget the learning and insight that you pick up along the way – what went well, what didn’t really work and how to confront and use that.

Before you know it, you’ve worked with others to build something different and you have to work hard at remembering the journey.

Today, we are publishing the story of the local delivery pilots, ‘People and Places: The story of doing it differently’, in order to capture and share the collective learning to date. Covering the period from concept in 2017 through to the vivid realities of the current pandemic, I hope our collective story will resonate with anyone who is wrestling with the challenge of tackling inequalities through ‘system change’ in places.

This isn’t a simple step-by-step manual of instructions on ‘how to do it’, but it will explore the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the approach, the amazing people and places that have shaped the change, and where we think this journey could take us next.

The fundamental question was to understand how working with, and in, places, we could address the stubborn inequalities that exist among the least active through community-led solutions.

We wanted to explore how the social and physical environment we live in, the organisations that serve us and how local and national policies could join up to help communities to be active and thrive.

What we've learnt

Through this work we now understand that, while people’s motivations and attitudes are part of the picture, what’s happening in our lives day-to-day in the places we live and work, and the extraordinary community assets that exist, are much bigger factors.

I’m convinced the best chance for success is a more integrated and holistic approach to increasing physical activity based around the places and spaces where people spend their time.

It’s in communities where the ‘jigsaw pieces’ can best come together. To get to this point was hard. We looked for willing partners with an appetite to explore a different and ‘messier’ more iterative style of working.

We ourselves had to change and embrace new behaviours as a funder. This different approach required us to start with people and place, to be needs-led and framed within the challenges and opportunities, as opposed to any pre-judgement of interventions.

The fundamental question was to understand how working with, and in, places, we could address the stubborn inequalities that exist among the least active through community-led solutions.

On reflection, I think there was a degree of expectation that one of the pilots would create a single innovative breakthrough – a silver bullet – that could then be scaled up or just done everywhere. We soon came to realise that this was a mirage.

In fact, the real change was in changing how we work and an emerging set of ‘ingredients’ that has shown impact, value and progress. All the theory in the world won’t help change the system if you don’t have the right people, mindset and values in place. 

Benefits have come from a more bottom-up approach to our work and investment. Working with – not doing things to – communities and helping those affected to play a role in what happens in their neighbourhood and how it gets done.

We have seen the true nature and power of collaboration.

Looking ahead, we need to ensure we work in collaboration with places – the people within them and the organisations relevant and trusted by them. No lesson has been learned more from our collective work with the pilots.

Please do take some time to have a read of our story and feel free to share what it provokes in you.

People and Places: The story of doing it differently.

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