A Closer Look at the ‘Get Active’ Strategy

It’s great to read a government strategy that acknowledges the importance, power, and expertise of
local leadership. Todays launch of “Get Active: A Strategy for the Future of Sport and Physical
” covers a range of areas, all of which are important and welcomed. There’s lots to be done
around diversity, safeguarding, integrity, sustainability, and participation across the lifecourse, and
welcomed investment into many of these areas.

In amongst lots of good stuff, was what seems to be the key to unlocking all of that ambition:
“recognising that local leaders have the best understanding of where and what action is needed.”

We need local leaders, who know their places and have the skills, expertise, confidence and backing
to see and do things differently. This is something we’ve seen emerge from our work with local
places who are trying to take a more holistic systemic approach to tackling inactivity. The reality is
that trying to fix problems ‘one facility at a time’ is a focus on the wrong problem. The aging leisure
centre, whilst problematic, needs to be viewed in the context of the wider problem around stubborn
inequalities in activity levels. Often, we are trying to find the right solution, to the wrong problem.
Facilities (in all their varieties…) are an important part of the answer for sure but should not be the
focus of the question.

“It is crucial that local people are at the heart of the decision-making process and that the needs of
individual communities are considered in order to address inactivity. Decisions on funding new and
existing facilities and spaces should be guided by those who really understand community needs and
can inform what is likely to work. This approach accepts that the answer to every problem is not
always to simply provide more money, but instead to focus more on strategic leadership and local

Our work in Rossendale and Sefton are good examples of working with places to see things in the
whole, and in supporting leadership to establish the networks, relationships, trust, and ideas tha
can help innovative opportunities to emerge. Leisure Centres, community spaces, the outdoors,
active design, school premises, workforce, school curriculum design, workplaces, interactions with
health systems, access to countryside and much more should be considered collectively rather than
in standalone strategies or priorities. The more work can be joined up, collaborated on, and co-
designed – the better the solutions will be, and more importantly, the more sustainable they will be.
This isn’t all about co-locating services, though that can be part of it. Its more importantly about the
nuanced interaction between facilities of all types (not just leisure centres) and outdoor spaces,
leaders and workforce and the way in which communities are welcomed and engaged that are

The strategy is a clear invitation for places to come together and consider these elements

“This means that we want local authorities, schools, and sector partners to work together to
establish a local plan for what they need in their area, which should then help develop a pipeline for
delivery and evidence to underpin their funding requests across government. This local plan should
extend beyond traditional leisure venues and consider adapting the built and natural environment to
encourage people to be active through their everyday lives.”

We’ve loved working with the LGA and Sport England to support learning opportunities for local
leaders to understand more about systems approaches and place-based working, as well as practical
application of those principles.

“With this in mind, we would encourage local leaders and local authorities to ensure that there is a
clear and wellevidenced facilities plan for their local area. This should take into account informal
spaces for participation as well as the role that the local leisure estate plays in contributing to
physical activity and wider wellbeing.”

A broad principle the emerges in the new strategy is the idea that we need to embed physical
activity along the whole lifecourse, at every age and in every community, and also that physical
activity needs to be embedded across policy areas and local priorities.

“We encourage local authorities to take greater accountability for integrating physical activity into
their local priorities and strategies. We would encourage each local authority to have a strategic
objective to improve the health and wellbeing of its population, in addition to its plan for local
leisure provision. This will help to ensure that there is joined-up local policy making towards this
outcome, improved local accountability, and that local leaders and authorities are having positive
impacts within their spheres of influence.”

So…. reflecting on all that, here’s a few ideas of what might be needed:

  • Expertise in really engaging with local people to understand life in our communities and
    what could be different to make a difference.
  • Leadership Development support for local leaders across the public sector to have the
    knowledge, skills, and capabilities to work in new ways to unlock the collective potential of
    their unique local circumstances.
  • Collaborative cross sector local networks that can share ideas, understand insight, share
    learning and co-design solutions that share resources for a more sustainable future.
  • Strategy development that brings together all the component parts and focuses on tackling
    physical activity inequality as a priority to other contributing problems (like an old leisure

The strategy seems to summarise it well; “As we move forward, systemic change is now needed to
ensure that public leisure is both relevant and viable in the coming years.”

Ken Masser

Director, Miova