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17 Feb 2021 | 15:15

Sport England has committed to “working with” communities, as opposed to “doing things to” them, as a result of learnings from its 12 Local Delivery Pilots. 

The commitment to more “bottom-up” collaboration with local partners came from Chris Perks, the funding body’s Executive Director of Local Delivery, who was speaking this week following the publication of a new document ‘People and Places – the story of doing it differently’

Sport England LDP reportIt describes Sport England’s work in 12 locations – selected in December 2017 – to connect and engage with local communities, taking their lead, building trust and investing in local leaders to remove the barriers that prevent people from playing sport and being active. 

The locations were Birmingham and Solihull, Bradford, Calderdale, Doncaster, Essex, Exeter and Cranbrook, Greater Manchester, Hackney, Pennine Lancashire, Southall, South Tees and Withernsea. 

“The fundamental question was to understand how working with, and in, places, we could address the stubborn inequalities that exist among the least active through community-led solutions,” says Chris in his blog published alongside the document this week. 

He adds: “Through this work we now understand that, while people’s motivations and attitudes are part of the picture, what’s happening in our lives day to day in the places we live and work, and the extraordinary community assets that exist, are much bigger factors. I’m convinced the best chance for success is a more integrated and holistic approach to increasing physical activity based around the places and spaces where people spend their time.” 


The recommendations align with findings of the consultation on Sport England’s strategy undertaken by the Sport for Development Coalition in October 2020 which emphasised that sustainable, scaled and systemic change on important societal issues will happen through locally-led and community-driven approaches. National actors and those seeking to deliver change at scale can best support these processes through facilitating shared learning, supporting co-creation and design thinking, and facilitating connectivity within and across communities around common objectives and outcomes. 

The findings have also led Sport England to reflect on how it works, and helped to define the narrative behind its new 10-year strategy ‘Uniting The Movement’, published in January. Chris says in his blog: “Benefits have come from a more bottom-up approach to our work and investment. Working with – not doing things to – communities and helping those affected to play a role in what happens in their neighbourhood and how it gets done.

Sport England LDP image

“Looking ahead, we need to ensure we work in collaboration with places – the people within them and the organisations relevant and trusted by them. No lesson has been learned more from our collective work with the pilots.” 

In particular, Sport England is keen to hear reflections on four specific areas:

  • Addressing stubborn inequalities requires working across and influencing all layers of the system - Positive outcomes are delivered by systems and interaction within them.
  • People make the change - An important part of the work has been investing in local people’s capacity to lead change. The ability to stop and think about what can be done differently.  To test and learn with the permission to fail, fail safely, and learn from it for the future.
  • The learning is the doing - Starting with questions and pushing aside any assumptions about what success might look like is an important part of this way of working. You must be prepared to let go of practices that aren’t up to the job and create the time and space to think and do things differently.
  • System change relies on leadership at all levels - Creating positive change in our communities requires strong leadership at every level of the system. Building momentum takes time but without nurturing and supporting leaders across the system, it’s difficult to create local networks that link up different parts of it.

This renewed commitment to collaboration and working in harness with local actors, many of whom are amongst the 160-plus organisations signed up to the Sport for Development Coalition’s Charter, has been welcomed by the Chair of the Coalition, Andy Reed, who has called for a “new social contract with sport and physical activity”. 

“We must expand understanding, recognition and investment in the contribution that sport can make beyond health and wellbeing, to addressing loneliness and social isolation, improving educational attainment and employability, to community cohesion, and reducing anti-social behaviour and entry into the justice system,” he said. 

Read ‘People and Places – the story of doing it differently’. To provide your feedback, email [email protected].