On the 26th Jan 2021 amidst the challenges of a global pandemic which is paralysing much of life as we know it, Sport England launched its new 10 year strategy. The strategy titled ‘Uniting the Movement’ captures the feelings and frustrations of many people, those who love sport and activity (and simply cannot cope without it), through to those who would benefit enormously from being more active. As Sport England’s CEO, Tim Hollingsworth introduced the strategy to an on-line audience topping 4,000 he intimated how this strategy would be an evolution.

As a National Lottery distributor coming of age, Sport England’s own evolution is evident, and I write this with some experience having started my career with them pre-lottery in the 90’s through to 2012. The lottery was a transformational windfall for the national Sports Council upping budgets from tens of £m’s from Government annually, to hundreds of £m’s from the National Lottery. In the beginning there was huge investment into building very visible state of the art sports facilities, replacing much of the jaded stock built through the 1960s and 1970s. We quickly realised that once the red carpet had been rolled away, and the initial interest of a new sports centre generally waned and that people were needed to generate interest. The funding model shifted to investing in people, and in partnership with Local Authorities, Sport England invested in Sports Development, indeed in 2000 invested heavily setting up Active Sports Partnerships, the origins of Leap designed to work hand in glove with sport’s national governing bodies to swell sports club membership, create more competitions, and educate and train a workforce of sports coaches.

This evolutionary path has continued through the noughties, with various Sport England strategies growing the number of people playing sport, and counting how many times the same people participated. The 2012 London Games cemented a sport-for-sport investment strategy through two 4-year cycles of investment focusing primarily on sport’s governing bodies, with significant investment through Whole Sport Plans; but the emphasis and focus has shifted back to sport and physical activity benefitting individuals and communities who need it most. Tim Hollingsworth has for a while been quoting Sir Michael Marmot, and his review of the Health Service, applying a more equitable approach to servicing individuals through proportionate universalism, which in a nutshell is about the resourcing and delivery of universal services at a scale and intensity proportionate to the degree of need.

Uniting the Movement embraces proportionate universalism and confirms Sport England’s position as an intelligent investor, utilising data and insight to make the most meaningful investments with the greatest impact. What struck me, was how Tim almost dismissed traditional methods of sport or health promotion, that offering a service was no longer enough, however, delivering a service was now essential. Understanding and reacting to the real-life barriers normal people contend with, things which block out their opportunity to be physically active.

Sport England presented a vision where all communities could be helped to become more inclusive, equal and connected through physical activity and sport. We know activity and sport will play their part, but only through a clear understanding of the issues (at granular level), by developing trust in communities, and co-designing with people and community organisations what’s needed on their terms.

The strategy highlights ‘five big issues’ as its focus:

  1. Recover and reinvent: To help sport and physical activity to recover from the effects of the pandemic and reinventing as a sustainable network of organisations providing opportunities for everyone.
  2. Connecting communities: Focus on sport and physical activity’s vital role as part of the fabric of the nation.
  3. Positive experiences for children and young people: An “unrelenting focus” on putting enjoyment at the heart of the experiences of children and young people’s involvement in sport and physical activity.
  4. Connecting with health and wellbeing: To further strengthen the connections between sport, physical activity, health and wellbeing, so more people can feel the benefits of an active life.
  5. Active environments: To maximise many of the lessons that the pandemic has brought, identifying Sport England’s role in creating and protecting the places and spaces that make it easier for people to play sport and be active in their local areas.

In my opinion Uniting the Movement is a very smart way to define Sport England’s vision for the next ten years and how it intends to operate and co-operate. Movement being defined as i) an act of moving (physical), ii) a change or development, and iii) a group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas. The word Movement really encapsulates the direction Sport England is now going to take.

This brings us to Leap (Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Sport and Activity Partnership) and role we will continue to play for Sport England. As I listened to the vast array of impressive and high-profile speakers joining Nick Bitel and Tim Hollingsworth, I was excited about the role Leap will have through its vast partnership of sport and physical activity enablers, supporters and champions. Our current 4-year strategy will be refreshed over the next year, led by Leap’s Board, and through consultation with our stakeholders. We find ourselves very well placed as our current strategy has established the platform to launch Sport England’s ambitions almost immediately across the county. Since 2017 we have be focused on ‘reaching the right people’ investing heavily into research and insight to understand and prioritise where we work and invest. We have broadened our partnership extending our reach far beyond traditional sport, through organisations who completely understand community and health needs; and we have, albeit with fewer successes continued to work with planners, developers, and urban architects to improve places and spaces to be active. Much of which chimes with the ‘5 Catalysts for Change’ identified by Sport England:

  1. Effective investment models – The right kinds of investment timed well and delivered skilfully can stimulate demand provide opportunities to get active enable innovation, and encourage collaboration to reduce inequalities and enable greater sustainability.
  2. High quality data insight and learning – Key to collaborative action is a shared understanding of the opportunities and challenges we face together.
  3. Applying innovation and digital – Times are changing so are people’s expectations, therefore it’s critical that innovation including digital is applied to the big issues that are holding many people back from being active.
  4. Rehearsing the power of people and leadership – The people who spend their time helping others to be active are the most precious resource.
  5. Good governance – Good governance and a constant to be positive effective safe delivery of opportunities at every level.

So the Sport England ‘Movement’ has started, and will quickly gather pace. At Leap we intend to embark on our own strategy development with our Board in May, but first capturing views, ambitions, and wisdom from across our partnership, starting at our Leap Partnership Forum on 10 February. We will continue to develop and broaden our range of partners, understand and unpick barriers and co-design solutions, targeting our resources (along with the resources of others) to the people and communities who will benefit the most from being more physically active through sport, play and exercise.

Be part of our Movement . . . . Leap With Us            www.leapwithus.org.uk