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Four common factors I see regularly in the London boroughs with increased activity levels

Blog post   •   Nov 25, 2019 12:22 GMT

Strategic Relationship Manager Lorna Leach introduces a new series of blogs looking in-depth at the most recent Active Lives data. Lorna's team will be looking at the London boroughs which saw positive increases in the percentage of people being active.

When the latest Active Lives data was reported in October it showed that nearly two thirds (64.4%) of adult Londoners are now physically active.

That’s a little over 4.5 million adults, the equivalent of West Ham filling the London Stadium to capacity for every home Premier League game for the next four seasons. 

Some areas of London are doing better than others at supporting residents to lead more active lives so what makes one place more successfully than another?

What is it that Wandsworth, Kensington & Chelsea, Kingston and Barnet have done since the baseline was set in May 2016 that has given them a significant increase in residents being categorised as Active (doing more than 150 minutes of physical activity per week)? 

And what have Camden done to move so many people from inactive (less than 30 minutes of activity per week) to fairly active (between 30-149 minutes of activity per week) in three years?

The truth is I can’t tell you the magic solution, I don’t have proof that one thing works, or another doesn’t. 

I wish I could say that you need four dedicated staff to ensure a 5% increase in activity levels, or that you need a new leisure centre. I can’t. However, there are things I see time and again that I would recommend.

Apply a local lens to successful programmes

Success isn’t about delivering the same activities.

Each borough does not have the same number of leisure centres, schools or sports clubs delivering the same programmes. Each borough does not have the same people living it as its neighbour. 

However, a well-attended exercise on referral programme in one location can be effective in another location if we apply one vital ingredient: localisation.

Anything can be successful in multiple locations and environments if the basic principle is built upon, moulded, adapted to, or even better by, the people in its new place. 

The magic is in taking the time to let the shape of the offer shift to meet the needs of the new audience.

Every successful borough, organisation and/or club takes the time to listen to its intended users and create the offer that meets their requirements.

Embrace the first follower

If no-one leads then no-one can follow and a movement of being physically active cannot be created. 

If presenting the case for physical activity is not owned, or worse, not prioritised then no-one will become active, resources deplete, facilities for activity decline and disappear and less people are active.

It is not enough to advocate for physical activity, or even do things that encourage it if you do this in isolation.

The physical activity lead has create a movement by making it simple to engage with, embracing the first follower(s) and keeping themselves and their followers visible so it becomes more awkward to not be part of the group. 

If that sounds mad, check out this short video on creating a movement through leadership.

No successful borough is achieving their success alone and every successful borough is visible in its promotion of physical activity in tackling the widest possible agenda.

Align physical activity as a tool to tackling other sector’s challenges and problems

An incredible amount of work has been done in the last few years to prove the benefit of physical activity on physical and mental health, long-term conditions, social cohesion, community development, employment and personal development.

Every successful borough has shown physical activity in one or more of these lights to other directorates. They’ve put it front and centre in all the borough strategies.

The best boroughs have gotten physical activity so embedded in other departments that there are physical activity-focused staff in other teams.

Fix the system as fast as you can

Things break. People move on. Both of these things affect success.

A weak system, one that has hardly any people, organisations, resources working towards a common purpose will struggle to cope with problems that arise. 

It’ll find it hard to cover a sick instructor, access a new venue, or ensure sustainability when funding dries up. Every missed session is the breaking point for someone’s new, or not quite stuck yet habit.

A strong system backs itself and makes choices that ensure the common purpose is achieved. 

The truly strong use both the powerful influencing agencies e.g. councils, and the community to own the purpose and solve the problems. 

For example, when a neighbourhood asks for bike parking to be increased so their kids can cycle to school, housing teams put in street furniture, transport teams develop bike lanes and active travel plans, schools close the roads and offer bikeability training, and parents stop driving.

These are the common factors I see over and over again in the boroughs with increased activity levels. They are also the things I see missing in the boroughs seeing decreases in activity levels. 

Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing the specifics of some of those boroughs who have seen significant positive shifts in activity levels since the baseline was set in 2016.

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