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Urban spaces are being used creatively for activity
Urban spaces are being used creatively for activity

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Big year for urban sport as covid-19 provides opportunity for creativity

Urban Sport Officer Abby West looks ahead to a big year for Urban Sport in London and Tokyo, and the growth in interest sparked by the restrictions due to the covid-19 pandemic.

Over the past year, the covid-19 pandemic has forced a significant shift in how we view sport and physical activity.

With the closure of traditional venues, such as leisure centres and sports clubs, came a new focus on local opportunities to get active.

Many people began to see their local area in a new light – discovering nearby parks for walking or cycling and realising that the empty car park opposite their house makes a great football pitch.

Alongside these individual changes in behaviour, the sport and physical activity sector has also been forced to adapt.

Many have altered their delivery style: training sessions that took place in sports halls now consist of online challenges, designed to be completed in your living room, on your balcony, or in a local green space.

Rather than requiring everyone to own specialist equipment, the focus is now on making the best of what you have – tins of soup for weights or a towel as a yoga mat have become commonplace.

Yet, this concept of urban sport is not a new one. 

Across London, people have always made the most of the urban environment to be physically active, whether that is a fitness session in a green space, skateboarding in an empty car park or simply throwing a ball around outside a block of flats.

Within the sport and physical activity sector, numerous organisations have championed this localised, urban approach in recent years to provide an alternative, more accessible way to be active without requiring traditional, often expensive, sports facilities.

Take StreetGames for example. Their flagship programme, Doorstep Sport, brings fun, affordable sports activity to young people in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the UK. 

Through low-cost, multi-sport activities delivered in local spaces, such as parks, estates and community centres, they supported over 100,000 young people to increase their physical activity levels between 2013 and 2017.

And StreetGames aren’t the only ones, many organisations and governing bodies have come around to the idea of adapting their activity for new audiences.

From supermarket car parks to disused underpasses, street cricket is on the rise across London, championed by organisations like Essex Cricket with their “Everywhere's a cricket ground” campaign.

At London Sport, developing localised, place-based approaches to sport and physical activity is one of our priority areas.

Now entering its second year, our urban sport project works across North West London to increase access to local physical activity for young people aged under 25.

The focus is on youth-led and youth created urban sport, where groups help to design activity that interests them and works for what they’d like to achieve.

Whether that is a weekly parkour session, or some 3v3 basketball in a nearby park, the aim is to facilitate sustainable opportunities to be physically active in a way that suits each unique community.

Like so much of London Sport’s work, we cannot do it alone.

That's why the London Urban Sport Group brings together organisations, including Skateboard England, StreetGames, Parkour UK and others, that have an interest in urban sport.

The group shares knowledge and provides a collective voice for physical activity and sport within the urban environment, encouraging more organisations and local authorities to back this approach.

Personally, I expect the introduction of skateboarding, 3v3 basketball and freestyle BMX to the Olympic Games in Tokyo will only raise the profile of these types of urban sport even further. 

As we emerge from lockdown in 2021, we have a big opportunity ahead of us.

Find out more about London Sport’s urban sport project here. Is your organisation interested in joining the London Urban Sport Group? Get in touch.

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London Sport aims to ensure Londoners live happier, healthier lives through sport and physical activity

About London Sport

London Sport aims to ensure more Londoners live happier, healthier lives through sport and physical activity. Supported by the Mayor of London and Sport England, our target is to get Londoners more physically active.

For more information on London Sport, visit www.londonsport.org

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