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How can sport adapt to London, and how can the city adapt to better enable physical activity

Blog post   •   Jul 25, 2019 11:27 BST

John Arthur, our newly appointed Community Relationship Officer for Urban Sports reflects on our recent Community of Practice event, looking at designing and developing grey spaces to encourage activity.


With its launch this week, Coca-Cola and Street Games’ new ‘Ball Games Allowed’ campaign has once again thrown open the questions of both how physical activity and sport can adapt to London, as well as how the city itself can adapt to better enable physical activity.

Should games traditionally played on wide-open green expanses transform to be played in a ‘grey space’ or should more be done to build a capital city that allows these activities to take place in the context of the modern urban environment?

Perhaps, the answer is: both.

At a recent London Sport Community of Practice event, partners joined us at House of Sport to look at exactly this issue – designing and developing grey spaces to encourage activity.

Vicky Aston, Sport England’s Planning Manager, explained how built and natural environments are key to helping people change their behaviours and to lead more active and healthy lifestyles.

She emphasised Sport England’s Active Design Principles which looks at open spaces, accessible to all, walkable communities as well as connecting walking and cycling routes and active buildings.

Sport England released their Active Environments Design Guides in April this year which highlighted how to design for different groups and the vital need to consult with local groups prior to construction.

There are already some excellent examples of innovative design promoting activity in London.

In Thornton Heath, Croydon, a large derelict space attracted anti-social behaviour until, through consultation with residents and the council, it was transformed into a flexible event space.

Then, thanks to Active Londoners funding the space was used for a free six-week activity programme of taster sessions so the community could make the space into something that would benefit them.

Consultation with local people is key. It’s something PlayInnovation do extremely well when creating spaces, as demonstrated in their input to the recent Valence Park redevelopment in Dagenham or Field Road in Hammersmith and Fulham.

At Field Road, the existing space was uninviting and surrounded by flats on all four sides, but the ultimate goal was to create a family inclusive sports area. Through consultation with young people and a process of engaging them in the design, PlayInnovation’s design project helped to instil a feeling of pride and a level of ownership in the scheme that increases the likelihood of the project’s long-term success.

My job as Community Relationship Officer - Urban Sports is all about getting more Londoners physically active in urban spaces. We do this by working with local people to design fun activities using their urban space.

I want to see urban spaces built for activity providing opportunities so individuals can improve their health and so communities are able to spend more time together.

Taking down 'No Ball Games' signs is part of creating a culture of physical activity, but we need to replace them with people and spaces fit for activity.

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