The recent Sport England Active Lives survey announced that record numbers of people are getting active and that over the last year there has been a huge shift from inactive to active particularly in Telford & Wrekin.


It's really heartening news and I guess you might expect me to tell you that it is all down to us - but do you know what - it's not!!


What?  Energize didn't do it?  That seems a strange thing for the Chief Exec to say but two things (a) it's true and (b) no one organisation can possibly do this on their own.


Think about it - becoming more active is much more than leisure centres and sports clubs, its more than dance classes and fitness gyms and it's more than good quality PE and after school sport.  Of course all of those things are part of what is needed and certainly without them the number of inactive people would increase significantly.  So one aspect we have to keep working on is the sustainable base of provision - one that can be grown on and developed.


But it takes more than this - if we think sport and fitness centres alone will save the nation then think again - it takes a whole system committed to encouraging and enabling an active lifestyle to be an easy choice.  A system that enables children, older people, those with long term limiting conditions and people with different beliefs and backgrounds to easily choose an active lifestyle.  The houses and streets we live in - the approach we take to our working day - the way we travel about - the things we do with family and friends - the care we provide to the more challenged and vulnerable - the whole way we live.


So why have activity levels risen and inactivity levels fallen in STW?  Well firstly I hope that Energize have had some influence but I stand by what I say that it is not all down to us.  Our approach has always been to empower and encourage and in recent times this is for more than just the sport / leisure sector.  We've also started talking about collaborative leadership - which is basically a team or partnership approach recognising that we all have strengths and insight to help tackle what can be a very difficult challenge.  After all human kind has for millions of years evolved to conserve energy to extend life and only in the last two or three hundred years since industrialisation has this desire to rest become an issue for our health.  Such that it's now the biggest risk to shortening lives.


But back to the team work or collaborative leadership approach.  It sounds straightforward but actually it's not - again it requires time, respect and really good listening skills.  Energize have been around for about 14 years now and over those years I think there have been some important developments.


To exemplify what I mean I'm going to concentrate the rest of the blog on Telford & Wrekin where I think there has been and continues to be a recognition of the importance of an active lifestyle.  The following are evidence of this over the years;


  • T&W had an opportunity through the building schools for the future to ensure that they had new and improved leisure and sports centres – these also had ambition to be local hubs for community preventative health services – ensuring that the centres weren’t just about sport but attractive and welcoming to all.
  • You’d expect Telford, as a new town, to have good cycling infrastructure but this doesn’t on it’s own encourage active travel – more recently a cycling and walking strategy has been developed encouraging behaviour change and considering further improvements which are needed
  • The importance of good quality green space has been recognised – both within planning policy but also as potential venues for community activity – ongoing work is taking place offering engagement and ownership for local communities whilst encouraging active volunteering
  • There is a history of support to community activity through small grants and / or asset transfers and achievement is regularly celebrating
  • There have been many initiatives to tackle specific issues e.g. Inclusive provision like ican2 and men's health – tackleyourhealth


Why? Because I think Telford & Wrekin Council recognise the outcomes that can be delivered as a result of encouraging an active lifestyle;


  • Over 30,000 people in the borough have a long term health problem or disability and the evidence of the improved physical and mental health benefits of an active lifestyle for this group are well documented
  • Telford & Wrekin has some of the most disadvantaged communities in England and we know that families within lower socio-economic groups are much less likely to be active which might explain why some of the highest levels of obesity are also evident in the area
  • Telford & Wrekin also has high levels of young people who are not in employment, education or training and these same people are 5 times more likely to have a criminal record and twice as likely to suffer mental health issues.  There is much evidence of the benefit of engaging in an active lifestyle and volunteering for this group.


But of course it's not just down to T&W Council - it needs us all - from schools where children are traditionally told to 'sit still' for large parts of the day to travel systems which invest by far the most resources in cars. 


Recently Energize has been trying to engage new 'non sport' partners to join this movement and we are starting to get some buy in.  Quite often there is hesitancy and sometimes lack of confidence - especially when it comes to organising new activity.  'How do you do it?' 'Is it safe?'  'Have I got time?' 'I'm not skilled in this?'  'It's not part of my job' are all responses we have met but often - after a little bit of help to identify what might be best approach and how to get started - we then hear how much everyone is enjoying it.  We've had substance misuse and counselling support organisations tell us that including physical activity in their service provision has helped them break new ground - and companies tell us that staff engagement and motivation has increased fourfold.


Like looking after our planet looking after our bodies is critical to the future of the world.  As my old PE teacher said 'if you don't use it you lose it'.  And of course our early years and childhood are really critical to this - but that's a whole other blog.....