A look back at the SAPCA Conference 2024

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Raising the standards for sports facility projects

We are the recognised trade association for the sports and play construction industry in the UK. All of our members go through a strict checking process:

  • Strict Admission Criteria
  • Standards of Construction
  • Code of Professional Conduct
  • Technical Mediation
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This year’s SAPCA Conference took place on 29 February 2023 at the Mattioli Woods Welford Road stadium. With high-profile speakers, a diverse educational programme and a number of networking opportunities, the one-day conference is the sport and play construction sector’s main event of the year.

The event kicked off with a keynote speech by ex-England rugby captain and World Cup winner, Maggie Alphonsi, who shared her views and thoughts on leadership and effective teams. Mixing audience interactions with personal anecdotes from her life and career, Alphonsi provided plenty of food for thought around positive mindsets and the importance of a diverse workforce.

Cameron Yorston from the Sport and Recreation Alliance then updated delegates on how the National Sector Partners Group (NSPG) – a group consisting of some of the leading bodies for the sport and physical activity sector – is working to get the sector’s voice heard ahead of this year’s General Election. He highlighted how, despite the benefits of physical activity to a nation’s health being recognised among politicians, the sector was too often ignored when policies were drawn up.

“You only need to look at the previous general election party manifestos of all political stripes to see how sport and physical activity is anything but a priority,” Yorston said. “As an example, the previous Labour manifesto of 2019 had more than 100 pages and 26,000 words the word ‘sport’ was featured a grand total of five times.”

There was also an inspiring and passionate presentation by Eugene Minogue, Executive Director of Play England, who called for places for sport and play – such as Multi-Use Games Areas and sport facilities – to be designed in a more inclusive way. He encouraged funders and planners to think outside the box and move away from the ‘one size fits all’ approach. He also called for Play Sufficiency legislation to be introduced in England. This would make it a legal requirement for every local authority in England to both assess and ensure that their area secures enough opportunities for children to play.

Meanwhile, Duncan Wood-Allum, Managing Director of SLC (Sport, Leisure and Culture Consultancy), outlined to delegates how the public sector’s ability to invest in physical activity and sport was being squeezed further, following the pandemic and the cost of living crisis.

“Local authorities are increasingly needing to focus their spending – and I mean all of it – on adult social care and essential children’s services,” Wood-Allum said. “We all know that they’re already not fixing roads, so we know that sport is not a priority. Sadly, some of the facilities that the public currently enjoy – and which SAPCA members supplied and equipped – may not be replaced by the time they get to the end of their operational lives.”

Other speakers on the day included Al Rownan, Sports Economy Lead at the Department for Business & Trade, who presented delegates with some of the opportunities that exist for those looking to export their products and services. Carolin Göhler, President of the Landscape Institute, outlined the principles of biodiversity net gain – a growing area of interest for the construction sector – while Neil Thody from the Orange Peel Consultancy revealed some of the ongoing changes faced by those competing for public sector work in the sports and leisure sector.

SAPCA Chief Executive, Richard Shaw, said: “We wanted to present delegates with a wide range of speakers, covering some of the topics and issues faced by the sector,” Shaw said. “There was plenty to take home to and I think the main message from the day was that sport and play is a robust sector that is well equipped to both benefit from the opportunities and tackle the challenges it faces.”