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Uniting the Movement through Place

Our strategic lead for place relationships recently joined partners in Essex to celebrate their work in Uniting the Movement and to launch the expansion of our place partnerships.

15th November 2023

by James Watmough
Strategic lead for place relationships, Sport England

There’s no better feeling in the world than seeing your work (and that of your colleagues) of the last five years materialising in front of you.

And that’s exactly what happened last week, when I had the pleasure of joining partners on Canvey Island, Essex, to celebrate our work supporting Uniting the Movement.

Active Essex hosted us at the Waterside Farm Leisure Centre, a fantastic backdrop to see the impact of place-based systemic work.

Activities were being delivered for all ages and adapted to be inclusive for all.

I also heard some brilliantly emotional stories of impact and life-changing journeys from individuals in the community.

On top of that, a panel of system leaders from local health and government organisations, as well as Sport England, spoke about how this way of working is creating lasting change and is enabling us all to focus unashamedly on the people that have most to gain from being active.

It was a brilliant day and the perfect platform for launching the expansion of our place partnerships.

Sport England's Place expansion launch in Essex

Over the next five years we’ll be investing £250m of National Lottery and Exchequer funding into places across the country that have greater levels of inactivity and inequality.

But as we often say, we can’t work alone.

Instead, through our network of Active Partnerships and current place partnerships we will work with a further 80-100 places to take a more systemic approach to reducing inactivity, increase activity, tackling inequality and providing positive experiences for children and young people.

This project started in 2018 when we began piloting this work in a small number of places across the country – testing out the conditions, behaviours and approaches needed to work more systemically and creating more sustainable solutions to the barriers that exist to moving more, in a way that is right for every individual.

Over that time, we’ve learnt heaps and we now know more not only about the complexity of these barriers, but also how we can work to remove them.

Key learnings that stood out are:

  • Leadership is key at all levels - developing understanding on the importance of 'how' you do things not just ‘what’.
  • Change takes time - it doesn't happen overnight. We need committed partners standing shoulder to shoulder for the long term and especially when the going gets tough.
  • Progress moves at the pace of trust - when we create strong connections, trust builds which is a great platform for momentum and change.
  • Understand the lived experience of communities – ground up, not top down. Meet people where they’re at, not where we think they’re at.
  • Asset-based community development is critical - start with what is 'strong' not what is 'wrong'. Our communities have pride in their places and we need to support them to unlock their potential.  

It was a brilliant day and the perfect platform for launching the expansion of our place partnerships.

We are now ready to grow this as a movement across the country.

We all know how tough life is right now. Particularly prevalent is the cost of living, which is forcing individuals, families and communities to make difficult choices which ultimately means the decision to be active is becoming harder and harder.

For many, though, the cost-of-living crisis isn’t a new phenomenon – it’s just even tougher than ever before and this means that our collective work hasn’t just got bigger, but even more crucial.

We have to find a way, as partners in places, to come together and share our resources behind a common purpose and agenda, to better serve those communities that for too long have been left behind by our sector.

We all appreciate the physical and mental health benefits we receive when we move and this should be an opportunity for everyone, no matter who they are and where they live.

I mentioned that we will be taking a targeted approach that is needs-led in 80-100 places.

However, we want to provide an offer to all – it’s our ambition that all places work in this way and take a systemic approach to these issues.

That’s why we're developing an enhanced ‘Universal Offer’.

This will be an easily accessible suite of tools, resources, investment and support.

Please watch this space for more information on this in the coming weeks and if you are interested in helping us to shape this offer for the future then please complete this short form.

I really hope you want to come on this exciting journey with us.

If we can collaborate and not compete, if we can start with lived experience and build on local assets, if we can focus our collective resources towards those that need it most – then I truly believe by Uniting the Movement in places, we can create a more active and healthier nation.

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