We are here to support, promote and develop voluntary and community action in Middlesbrough

More people, more active, more often

Guest blog by Jen Berger, Insight & Analytics Officer at ‘You’ve Got This’ - a Sport England local delivery pilot

Since its conception, Sport England has invested a lot of money into getting the country moving. While it has certainly encouraged the active to become more active, its efforts did not reach the inactive population which, as of 2019, sits (pardon the pun!) at 25.1% (Sport England characterises adult inactivity as doing less than 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week).

This poses a huge problem. Physical inactivity is estimated to cost £8.2 billion nationwide a year in both direct costs to the NHS and indirect costs such as sickness absence and it can also lead to a reduction in life expectancy. Sport England, in their 2015 strategy ‘Towards an Active Nation’, emphasised the importance of local delivery and customer insight in addressing inactivity, and proposed to invest £130 million over the following years to develop and implement pilots, local strategies for physical activity and sport. From these pilots, good practice would be developed with lessons learnt that can be implemented more widely.

South Tees chosen for pilot project 'You've Got This'

Following a submission by Redcar and Cleveland Council, in partnership with local organisations, South Tees was selected to become one of the Sport England Local Delivery Pilots. This pilot, which is the only one in the whole of the North East, was, after much deliberation, named ‘You’ve Got This’.

There are two elements to ‘You’ve Got This’. The first element is ‘communities of interest’: people awaiting surgery, people with diabetes or at risk of developing the condition, people accessing commercial weight loss services, and work with health professionals to build on the understanding of ‘prescribing of physical activity’. These make up our ‘four themes’. The second element takes a whole community approach to increasing physical activity in four focus Wards: Grangetown, South Bank, North Ormesby and Thorntree and Brambles. These Wards have been identified because of high levels of deprivation and health inequalities.

Now, if you’re thinking ‘Woah! That’s too much ground to cover in one blog post!’ – you’re absolutely right. In this post I’ll concentrate on the focus wards and, although I’m sure the suspense is killing you, I’ll save the themes for a later post.

Focus Wards: learning from the experts (residents)

We are coming towards the end of Phase 2 of the pilot, which sought to better understand the communities of interest by collecting qualitative data via ‘community chats.’ Early on we realised there would probably not be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to the problem of inactivity. And the baseline data, which was compiled from a self-completion survey put together by Sport England, confirmed our suspicions.

Women, people with long-term disabilities/conditions, the unemployed and older people were falling behind other groups in terms of how physically active they are. But there were also questions on the survey regarding mental wellbeing and social cohesion. Those very same groups who reported the lowest levels of physical activity also reported lower life satisfaction and higher levels of anxiety. And, sadly, a large proportion felt that they could not trust the people in their communities (58% of respondents in North Ormesby said that they could not trust people in their Ward).

Perhaps the most startling statistic was the overall adult activity level. 43% of respondents fell in the ‘Inactive’ category. That’s much higher than the national average (25%) reported by Sport England.

But while the baseline data can tell us a lot, it can’t tell us everything. We needed to find out what was causing these discrepancies in the uptake of physical activity. So, working with Teesside University, we ran focus groups with residents and key influencers in the four wards. We decided the best strategy would be to focus on a different group for each of the four Wards.

In North Ormesby it was older adults, in Grangetown it was adults, in Brambles and Thorntree it was Primary School children and in South Bank it was Secondary School children and teenagers. The ‘influencers’ – community workers, religious leaders, sport facilitators, etc. – were hugely helpful in the recruitment of residents into the focus groups (a testament to the effectiveness of distributed leadership!).

In the focus groups I sat in on, there were some very interesting conversations being had around safety concerns, the physical landscape not being conducive to physical activity, psychological capacity/motivation, body confidence issues and a need for social prescribing, among many other things. These conversations will be captured in a comprehensive report and will inform our next Phase.

The exciting stuff is coming now

The next phase is the exciting stuff. Using the insight gained from the focus groups, we are going to work with residents to co-design interventions. If, say, the intervention(s) we employ in Grangetown for adults are effective, we will employ the same strategy in the other three wards. If an intervention works in one Ward but not another, we will endeavour to find out why and change tack. We really want communities to feel included in this process and take ownership of the project; which is why, as well as being involved in the interventions, they will (quite literally) be the face of the movement.

Our posters will feature ‘local faces in local places’ – real people living in our focus Wards who are doing that little bit to stay active. So, it might not be long before you see Betty from the bakery or Linda from the library gracing a ‘You’ve Got This’ poster.

All in all, we have done A LOT in the past couple of months, but we have a whole lot more to look forward to!