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Boosting participation in sport and physical activity is improving life chances in our most deprived communities

Boosting participation in sport and physical activity is improving life chances in our most deprived communities

Michelle Norman & Gary Stannett MBE | Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I

4 min read Partner content

The CEO of Active Communities Network and the Director of Sustainability, Lucozade Ribena Suntory write about the B Active programme and call on the Government to bring together a national plan for closing the gap deprived communities face in sport participation.

Many of us recognise that boosting participation in sport and activity can improve health outcomes, bring communities together and give people a way to advance their prospects. Unfortunately, sport and physical activity levels are lowest in highly deprived communities. The drop off at ages 16-21 remains a national issue, and is again magnified in deprived communities. This is partly due to attitudes towards participation, a sense of exclusion from shared spaces, and a shortage of volunteers in the community. But ultimately, there has been a lack of investment in evidence based approaches.

Recognising these problems, and the gains that could be made by overcoming them, Lucozade Ribena Suntory (LRS) and Active Communities Network (ACN) joined together last year to create ‘B Active’: a youth-led scheme designed to help people aged between 16-24 get better access to sport and physical activity.

ACN was formed in 2006 from a collection of community groups working to sustain Sport England’s Active Community Development Fund. The charity seeks to use sport to build trust and help communities develop. 

The partnership with ACN made perfect sense for Lucozade Ribena Suntory. Through its ambitious Health & Wellbeing Plan launched in 2017, the soft drinks manufacturer is seeking to improve the lives of young people through sport and get one million people moving more by 2020. ACN is the first beneficiary of LRS’s ‘Movement Fund’ which is also funding academic research to assess the impact of the three-year scheme and the potential scalability of the delivery model.

B Active focuses on areas of high deprivation in London, Manchester, Hull, Belfast and Newport. It is targeted at young people who are not engaged in mainstream services and sports/physical activity, providing them informal education focussed around health and wellbeing issues, seeking to develop them to become leaders, volunteers and an inspiration to others in their communities.

B Active’s first year has been a huge success, with participation nearly three times greater than originally planned for. Of the 4,000+ young people that have taken part since launching in 2018, over 700 have gained vocationally-recognised qualifications. And three in seven who have taken part in the programmes have volunteered in their community. 

Behind these numbers are personal stories of young people whose lives have been changed for the better. This includes Ellie, who lives in an area of Manchester with high levels of anti-social behaviour and some of the worst levels of poor health in the country. Ellie, who is 16, joined the free, open access boxing sessions that B Active supports at the Moston and Collyhurst Boxing Club.

Initially, Ellie was shy and lacking confidence – but enthusiastic about improving her physical health. Through the support Ellie has got from her peers and coaches, she has raised her ambitions. She recently completed her Sport Leader Level 2 Award and hopes to become an official volunteer for the organisation within the next two months. In the longer term, Ellie aspires to work in the sports for development sector.

Ellie is just one of thousands who has benefitted from the scheme and will benefit over the next few years. In fact, B Active will be expanding into Birmingham this year with a specific focus on encouraging more young women like Ellie to get into sport.

B Active has shown that sport and physical activity can boost self-confidence, give young people a sense of purpose and a way to gain new skills, build a sense of community and work as a stepping stone to encouraging volunteering.

To make the most of this potential, we’re calling on the Government to bring together a national plan for closing the gap deprived communities face in sport participation. Our experience has shown that investing in people, equipping them with the skills to give back to their communities and the confidence to come together through sport and activity can make a real difference. The potential reward is not just achieving an improvement in health outcomes, but helping to radically boost young people’s prospects and supporting those communities that need it most.

Michelle Norman, Director of Sustainability, Lucozade Ribena Suntory & Gary Stannett MBE, CEO, Active Communities Network

England Lioness Nikita Parris and Minister for Sport and Civil Society Mims Davies MP will be launching the new B Active programme aimed at young women in Birmingham on Tuesday 5th February 4-6pm in the House of Commons. The event will also celebrate the success of the five existing programmes launched across the UK in 2018 and recognise young people who have completed at least 50 hours of volunteering work. 

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