Written by Tom Beasley, CEO
'We can move' has been named as a successful catalyst for change. We believe communities investing in systems change can harness physical activity to drive better health and tackle inequality.
Health and equality are inextricably linked. Inequality has a direct impact on levels of activity and this, in turn, is shown to have a detrimental effect on health. Our focus at Active Gloucestershire is to build a movement of people who work to increase levels of physical activity in Gloucestershire.
We follow global thinking that a community-wide systems approach is the most effective strategy, and are extremely proud to find ourselves named by our evaluation partner ARC West as a successful example.
ARC West (National Institute of Health Research Applied Collaboration West) was contributing to the Eight Investments That Work for Physical Activity1. The investments recommend a community-wide approach to physical activity, in areas ranging from travel and the workplace, to public education and healthcare.
So why do we need the Eight Investments, and how are we achieving them?
Across the globe, rates of physical activity are on the decline, and Gloucestershire is no exception. The consequences are dire – physical activity affects both life expectancy and quality of life and has been proven to have a greater impact on health than giving up smoking.
It is clear that inequality plays a huge part in the inclination to become active. People may want to be more active but struggle with housing, finance or food. They may live somewhere that has no green space, or where they need transport to reach even basic amenities. If you are worrying about food, physical activity is likely to be low on your list of priorities.
Historically, organisations used sport to inspire greater levels of activity, but this approach has proved to be limited. The Olympics were hailed as a major driver, for example, but many were put off by competitive sport, and almost a decade later, little has changed.
Active Gloucestershire has mapped the impact of physical activity across the county. We found scenarios where poor housing leads to greater heating costs, financial worries, and multiple health concerns.
Promoting the benefits of sport to people who struggle to fulfil their basic needs will fall on deaf ears. Instead, we are focusing on community-wide programmes such as walking to school, which gives people an easy way to build activity into everyday life.
Systems change is not a quick fix but, with three years’ experience in supporting we can move, we are lucky to be ahead of the game. We are already seeing our ideas come to fruition and, in another five years, we will experience wholesale changes.
The partnerships we have built across the county are germinating ideas that touch on many areas of life. For example, while Gloucestershire Highways is working with us to explore ways to invest in cycling routes, we are also helping NHS England in its scheme to use physical activity to alleviate pain. With every partnership we foster, we see individuals start to ‘think active’ and come up with ideas that could drive greater collaboration.
While in the middle of one global pandemic, it is a timely point to remember that current levels of physical inactivity have been given the same classification. Communities play a key role in battling the consequences of poor health and inequality, where physical activity can be seen as the canary in the mine. In partnership with other agencies and organisations across the county, Active Gloucestershire will continue to foster engagement and invest in better health, and a sustainable, more productive world.
If you would like to get involved, get in touch!