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Sport England to invest £250m in deprived areas to boost physical activity

Sport England, the public body responsible for funding and promoting sport and physical activity in England, has announced a major shift in its strategy to tackle the inequality gap in access and opportunities for people in the most deprived areas of the country. The agency will invest £250m over the next five years to help people in about 100 of the most socially deprived areas get more exercise, and address the “manifestly unfair gap” in opportunities between rich and poor communities.

The problem of inactivity and inequality

According to Sport England, the most active place in the country has almost double the activity levels of the least active place (81% compared with 43%), while lifespan can vary by nine years depending on where someone lives. A quarter of adults in England are currently deemed to be inactive, with more than 11m doing less than 30 minutes of activity in total a week. And statistics indicate that 53% of children and young people are not meeting the guidance of taking part in at least 60 minutes of activity a day.

Sport England’s research shows that inactivity rates are double in the most deprived areas, and that people in low-income communities often face barriers such as lack of facilities, transport, affordability, safety, and social stigma. The agency said that this is “manifestly unfair” and must be addressed as a real priority.

Sport England to invest £250m in deprived areas to boost physical activity

The solution of place-based funding and partnership

Sport England will redirect a quarter of its budget, which comes from the National Lottery and the government, towards areas with the worst levels of physical inactivity over the next five years. The agency will work with local partners, such as councils, charities, schools, and community groups, to co-design and co-deliver programmes that are tailored to the needs and preferences of the local people.

The new investment expands on a £100m pilot scheme called the Place Partners programme, which Sport England ran in 12 of the country’s least active communities between 2017 and 2022. The pilot scheme helped to fund activities such as Free Bikes in Birmingham and Beating the Streets in Burnley, which increased the participation and enjoyment of physical activity among the residents.

Sport England said that the success of the pilot scheme had encouraged it to invest a further £150m over the next five years in order to increase opportunities in 80-100 new areas across the country. The agency said that this approach is not just about providing money, but about how to use it effectively and collaboratively.

The reaction of the stakeholders and the public

The announcement was welcomed by the sport minister, Stuart Andrew, who said: “Our new sports strategy sets out an ambitious aim to get 3.5 million more people active by 2030 and this £250m investment from Sport England will help make that a reality. This targeted place-based funding gives greater access to quality activities and clubs for people of all ages in areas of the country that need it most.”

The chief executive of Sport England, Tim Hollingsworth, said: “Access to sport and physical activity in England is still not close to being a level playing field. Too often, people in low-income communities don’t have access to the same facilities or opportunities as wealthier areas. This is manifestly unfair – and must be addressed as a real priority. That is why our expanded Place Partnership programme will unashamedly see us target our resources and efforts on communities that need the greatest levels of support and experience the greatest levels of inequality.”

The decision was also praised by various organisations and individuals involved in sport and physical activity, such as Active Partnerships, the Sport and Recreation Alliance, the Youth Sport Trust, and the former Olympic champion Dame Kelly Holmes. They said that the investment was a positive step towards creating a more inclusive and healthier society.

However, some also pointed out the challenges and limitations of the strategy, such as the need for more investment in the sector, the impact of the cost of living crisis on people’s ability to exercise, and the decline of sport and physical education in schools. They urged the government and Sport England to work together with other departments and agencies to address these issues and ensure that the benefits of physical activity are accessible and sustainable for everyone.

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