Active4Life - the initiative inspiring people of all ages and abilities to get active
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 September 2018
Lissa Cook finds out about the new experimental Active4Life initiative which aims to help communities to get up and about.
Back in 2012 the country was gripped by Olympic fever and an ambitious project was underway in Derbyshire to capitalise on the buzz. The ‘Derbyshire Village Games’ team was working across the county to inspire people of all ages and abilities to get active.
Run by the not-for-profit Community Sports Trust (CST), hand in hand with local councils and partners like the NHS, a small team of Village Games Officers helped local people put on affordable activities where they lived. The idea was simple – to listen to what people wanted and give them a hand to overcome obstacles such as paperwork, finding suitable locations and qualified instructors and training volunteers. It was a great success with 50,000 people participating.
Six years later, another quiet revolution is underway in Derbyshire. Andrea Kemp is the co-founder of the CST, now called ‘Shift’. She’s bubbling with enthusiasm about the lessons learned from Village Games and how it has morphed into a new, experimental initiative called ‘Active4Life’ that engages sedentary people in economically disadvantaged areas of the county.
In the jargon, the approach is called Asset-Based Community Driven Effort. Andrea says, ‘Some places like Greater Manchester are doing this in a bold, leading kind of way. Derbyshire is working in an understated, discovering kind of way.’
‘It’s a totally different way of working. Too often we focus on what’s wrong in a community. There’s a culture of putting a bid in for government or lottery funding, delivering the project, counting the numbers, reporting back and leaving a community. This is about working with what’s strong and discovering the value of what you’ve got. It’s about identifying physical resources like parks, recreation grounds and community centres, but by far the most valuable asset is people and their ideas, energy and enthusiasm.’
In practice it’s a subtle way of working. Over the past year three experienced sports development professionals have integrated themselves into six, small communities. Emma Beswick in Gamesley and Fairfield in the High Peak; Nathan Culkin in Creswell, Whitwell and New Bolsover and Zoe McKenzie in Petersham, near Long Eaton.
Their almost undercover mission has been to get to know local people, take time to sit and listen to what they want in their communities and to build relationships, create networks and develop a culture of activity. I say ‘undercover’ because words like ‘sport’ and ‘fitness’ can be off-putting. A lot of people see active people as sporty, sweaty, lycra-clad gym bunnies who they can’t identify with.
What Andrea’s team are finding is that often the key to unlocking someone’s potential to become physically active is taking the time to listen and nudging them in the right direction.
Nathan’s been supporting the Bolsover Nature Explorers, run by Sarah Bennett, a mum with two children and a passion for getting families involved in the outdoors. She says, ‘I had an idea to start up some sort of nature walk with activities for families but had no idea how to go about it. I met Nathan at the Community Volunteers Project and he helped us with funding to buy equipment.’
Sarah has gone on to train to become a freelance Forest School practitioner. She says, ‘My initial training week was the one of the best experiences in my life. Forest School isn’t just about learning skills, most of all it’s a fantastic way to learn about yourself, reflecting on what you can achieve. There are no expectations in a forest school setting, we are all different and there is no right or wrong way. You work to your own ability in your own way and your best will always be good enough.’
In Fairfield Emma is supporting a group where people have connected around food and exercise. Andrea says, ‘The relationships that people have developed have influenced their lives way beyond the physical. They’ve started to talk about things in their shared lives which have real value and they start to problem solve together.’
On the Petersham Estate near Long Eaton, Zoe’s been working closely with local parents including Sam Smith and Sharron Wildsmith and two volunteers Carl and Rebecca McCarthy from nearby Sandiacre. With gentle encouragement from Zoe, Sam and Sharron have set up a Petersham Community Facebook group which now has more than a hundred members. They’ve organised activities such as an Easter Treasure Hunt around the estate, a picnic in the park and a Royal Wedding Street party which about 150 people attended. Carl and Rebecca have launched a weekly Breakfast Club which has proved a big hit, connecting with people previously reluctant to leave their homes.
Carl and Rebecca had been volunteering at Hope Nottingham, a charity that runs a one-stop community support centre in Beeston. They were looking to set up their own project and Zoe suggested working on the estate. Carl says, ‘Because we sit and listen we found out one of the people on the estate had been organising a petition to set up a play-park. The local councillor wanted to do the same. We’ve linked the two up and the councillor now has the ammunition to lobby for the funding. Sam and Sharron are our link to Petersham. They’ve delivered leaflets and set up the Facebook group. Local businesses like the Tesco and Coop have provided food, tea and coffee. The County Councillor for Petersham, Garry Hickton, has made a donation of £800 to the Breakfast Club.’
Andrea says, ‘It’s like sewing seeds in a garden. Once ideas take root you start to see people blossom and what’s brilliant is that you get cross-pollination. When people connect around physical activity they are energised and they feel better for being with other people, but on a deeper level they start to build relationships which leads to other things.’
From these first green shoots of community activity Andrea is optimistic that people will gain the confidence to become more physically active. On the day I visited the Petersham Estate Sam had come on her bike and was going for a taster session at the gym. Sharron was talking about trying to put on Pilates and karate classes. They’re keen to set up a walking group and even signed up to become members of the community centre organising committee.
Derbyshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Health and Communities Cllr Carol Hart has given her backing saying, ‘We are proud to have funded the first few years of this innovative project that is supporting people in Derbyshire to build more active communities. We recognise the social and health benefits of people getting more active and are really excited by the projects that have got off the ground through Active4Life. As the project builds on its early successes we will continue to support the work of Shift as a partner organisation in our ambitious plans to get Derbyshire moving more.’
Andrea says, ‘I’ve seen the evidence that this approach works with our network of Jog Derbyshire groups which are all run by local volunteers. And also where I live in Crich. Ten years ago I looked for people who had the passion, ideas and motivation and now we have a thriving active community. We have a physical literacy programme from pre-school to year 6, an annual fell race, yoga, tai-chi, jogging, walking and cycle groups and this year sees the inaugural ‘Fitness Fortnight’ showcasing local activities for people to try out. I’ve been able to step back and most people wouldn’t even connect me with what’s going on now. That’s what Asset-Based Community-Driven Effort is about – people owning their lives, wanting to shape and improve where they live.’