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23 Aug 2021 | 11:11

Coalition member organisations have highlighted how sport for development is helping to tackle some of the stark issues raised in the Chief Medical Officer’s recent annual report on health in coastal communities. 

The CMO, Professor Chris Whitty, has called for a national strategy to address the disproportionately high concentrations of chronic disease, poor mental health and life expectancy in cities and towns like Skegness, Hastings and Blackpool. 

“Coastal areas are some the most beautiful, vibrant and historic places in the country. They also have some of the worst health outcomes with low life expectancy and high rates of many major diseases,” said the CMO.

He said Covid-19, which has had disproportionately negative effects on people with chronic health conditions, has reinforced the need to tackle concentrations of ill-health in certain communities. “It is important we do not lose sight of these enduring health challenges as we face the largest pandemic for a generation.” 

Some of the 200-plus charities, organisations and networks within the Coalition – which over-arch thousands of programmes and projects across the UK – are based in coastal towns and communities, and are directly tackling some of the issues outlined by the CMO’s report. Examples include: 

  • The Wave Project uses ‘surf therapy’ to support the emotional and physical wellbeing of young people in coastal communities across 12 regions of the UK, from Cornwall and the Isle of Wight to St Andrews in Scotland. CEO Joe Taylor explained: “The Wave Project uses the natural world to help children and young people improve their mental health and wellbeing through surfing. We have supported just under 5000 children and young people in the past decade, and seen significant increases across the cohort in confidence, emotional wellbeing and resilience through ‘surf therapy’. We are a community project, so we combine with local community services, volunteers and the local surfing community to serve schools and young people, and create a positive environment. Our referrals all come from professionals who can identify the young people most in need of support – that’s local authority services, social services, NHS and schools. In the case of schools, teachers often act as volunteer surf mentors for us as well.” Read more. 
  • Ashley Hackett is Chief Executive of Blackpool FC Community Trust, (BFCCT) part of the EFL Trust’s national network of Community Club Organisations. The Trust (pictured below) is the charitable arm of the English Football League (EFL). Ashley commented: “It is well known that Blackpool has huge levels of deprivation across the town, which makes the lives of our young people and families extremely difficult and complex. At BFCCT, we have endeavoured to try and make all residents lives healthier and happier, through a broad range of programmes focused on health education, employability skills, physical activity and tackling isolation, whilst also being heavily focused on making all of our provision affordable, or free of charge at all times. In the past year, we are greatly proud to have worked with 18,000 people in our town, who engaged in our programmes more than 500,000 times. It is also a great source of satisfaction that we have a programme for all people from cradle to later life.” Read more. 
  • Dame Kelly Holmes Trust has been using world class athlete mentors to deliver 'Get on Track for Wellbeing' programmes – funded by Sport England – designed to tackle low mental wellbeing and physical inactivity in coastal communities for two years. CEO Ben Hilton, who is a Board member of the Coalition, said: “Our work in these communities has delivered a significant increase in the wellbeing scores of more than 700 young people that we have reached through the programme. Using the Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (SWEMWBS) we have seen an increase of 17% in wellbeing from the start to the end of the programme among the young people taking part. Steady increases were also seen in each of the seven SWEMWBS indicators between the start and end of the programme, indicating that young people’s wellbeing improved across all the different domains, including general self-efficacy, propensity to join and participate in sports clubs, and confidence to move into education, employment or training.” A full report will be published by the Trust later this year. Read more. 

The CMO’s report describes how predominantly older populations found in coastal towns, coupled with sub-par and hard-to-access health services, high levels of poverty, deprivation and poor housing have helped create a distinctive negative “coastal effect” on population health.

Blackpool FC Community Trust

Clacton, in Essex, reported the second highest mental health need in the country, while in Morecambe Bay, patients were 20% more likely to have depression than the national average. Rates of self-harm among 10 to 24-year-olds were also higher in coastal communities compared with those further inland.

Listen to 'The Coalition Tackles....' podcast episode two which features Hannah Green, a young person who participated in Dame Kelly Holmes Trust's 'Get on Track for Wellbeing' programme, and the Wave Project, after experiencing homelessness and PTSD.

Health risk factors such as smoking and drinking were also higher in coastal communities: in Hartlepool and Blackpool for example, almost one in four women smoked in pregnancy compared with a national average of 10%. Blackpool had the highest rate of hospital admissions for alcohol-related harm in England. 

Read the CMO’s report on health in coastal communities.