Jude Taylor, CEO of Together Active, believes that we are currently seeing an unprecedented level of government messaging encouraging physical activity.
She said: “what we’ve seen for the first time ever is that a government really leading with messaging around the importance of physical activity.
“It is one of the four things you are permitted to do each day … it is that important.
“Physical activity isn’t just about playing football or hitting a tennis ball; it is absolutely integral to a person’s wellbeing and happiness, and I’m hoping that that message will be sustained beyond the pandemic.”
Together Active is a network of agencies around Staffordshire that work together to try and increase the number of people who are engaged in some form of physical activity.
Although over the last year, with the national lockdowns and other restrictions to fight the spread of COVID-19, Taylor acknowledges that “less people are active then they were.”
“It is a real concern for us now that we are seeing those physical activity levels drop off in the general population, and that is something we obviously would like to see addressed.”
However, Taylor also pointed out the effect that COVID-19 has had on Together Active, stating that “our community organisations have been disproportionately affected.
“Many of our clubs and groups which do absolutely crucial work within their local communities, are seeing now significant financial implications of closures, … and that is putting some of these organisations in a very, very perilous position.
“That being said, we have seen some really great innovation happening within these community groups.
“They have adapted and pivoted to provide online sessions, on Zoom, to sustain that feeling of community within their membership.
“Definitely we’ve seen that people are engaging with that kind of online activity in a way that they haven’t done previously.”
With a new lockdown underway, there is a risk that activity levels could drop off again, something of which Taylor is well aware.
She said “we’ve got two strategies over the next few months: the first is around our campaigning and our forward-facing activity.
“We are promoting two really important campaigns: Stay In To Work Out – that’s a Sport England campaign – and Do It To Feel Good, which is a campaign which we’re delivering in partnership with [Staffordshire] County Council.
“The second part of our strategy is really making sure we can sustain as many of our vital community organisations as possible.
“We are working with Sport England to implement the Tackling Inequalities fund, and that is a fund which really targets priority audiences: ethnically diverse groups, groups living in a lower socio-economic status, those with long term health conditions and those with disabilities.
“And that fund is to work with community organisations which engage with those cohorts, and the fund will both be used to sustain those organisations.
“We’ve already distributed £180,000 out to local clubs and groups and we’re hoping to have a third round of that funding available towards the end of this month.”
However, there have been significant effects on activity levels across Staffordshire and throughout the UK over the last year.
According to Sport England’s Active Lives – Children and Young People survey, over 86,000 less children were considered active over the course of the 2019/20 academic year.
In Staffordshire, according to the same survey, just 40% of children could be considered active over that period, compared to the national average of 44.9%.
And Taylor is aware of the impact that this decrease in activity levels has had on children both in Staffordshire and across the country.
She said: “we are aware that teachers reported a huge drop off in fitness levels in September when the children returned – a Youth Sport Trust survey said 73% of children returning to school had got a considerable drop in their fitness.”
Taylor pointed out the difficulties that schools have had with providing any form of physical activity for their students under the restrictions throughout the year.
“We’ve seen that schools were just not able to deliver PE [Physical Education], because of the complications with the logistics … and because of those complications we saw that up to 26% of Key Stage 4 age schools were receiving no PE within school time.
“Obviously we want to work with our schools to make sure that they are feeling supported to deliver physical activity and sport, both in the school day and out of the school day. “However, we are respectful that school are dealing with very complex issues at the moment, and we want to be very respectful of the pressures that they are under.”