Building an active nation – making our case

Sport England recently reached the midpoint of its five-year Towards An Active Nation strategy. Launched in May 2016, the strategy maps out the organisation’s direction of travel until 2021.

Towards An Active Nation was launched in response to the government’s Sporting Future strategy and signalled a radical change in focus for the grassroots funding body. Rather than solely concentrate on growing the number of people playing organised sport, the organisation now directs a lot of its focus – and investment – towards tackling inactivity.

It has been a major change for Sport England and it’s clearly taken some time for it to reorganise itself and realign its priorities. We are, however, now beginning to see its operational focus shift from “what” to “how”. As it gradually builds an understanding of what its new remit is, it has begun coming up with how it will deliver on its new mandate.

There has been a flurry of funding announcements recently. From those, we can gain insight into the new thinking – and perhaps even priorities – that Sport England will adopt.

Take Parkrun, for an example, which was given £3m worth of National Lottery money to create 200 new running events – with the aim of getting more women and people from lower socio-economic groups more active.

Meanwhile, StreetGames, the charity which uses sport to boost the life chances of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, was handed £6.6m over a three-year period to set up operations in 50 new areas.

These are just two examples which show that, in terms of its five-year strategy, Sport England is now at the point where it is beginning to experiment on its new remit.

Threats or opportunities?

While some might see the dispensing of National Lottery money “away” from traditional sports – and especially national governing bodies – as a threat, the new focus on finding innovative ways to engage the physically inactive is also a great opportunity.

For SAPCA, it provides an opportunity to get involved and offer input at this experimental stage. What learnings could we offer Sport England as innovators ourselves? What can we tell Sport England about the building of facilities that demonstrably engage entire communities – especially the physically inactive? Can we help the “non-traditional” organisations which have received grants – the StreetGames of this world – deliver on the facilities and targets upon which their public funding was secured?

These are all questions to consider if we want to be part of Sport England’s drive to find innovative – and sometimes unconventional – ways to get the nation moving.

And let’s not forget, while Sport England will, of course, still be heavily involved in working with NGBs, there are changes taking place in the way traditional sport is funded too.

NGBs are under increased scrutiny to be accountable for the funding they receive. Targets now need to be clear and results verifiable. An example can be seen in the way 10 NGBs last year had to submit further business cases and illustrate positive results to Sport England, in order to secure grants for the second half of their five-year funding cycles.

This presents another opportunity for us, as NGBs will be looking for ways to innovate within their facility strategies.

So it’s clear that we can have a big role in helping Sport England – and those that it funds – to help getting the nation active.

One simple way is to remind Sport England and all of its partners of SAPCA’s tagline – Building an Active Nation. It acts as a useful reminder that, even with their new focus, they will still need plenty of sports and physical activity facilities to achieve what the strategy sets out to do.

About Andy Reed

SAPCA Chairman until the end of 2020.