To create big, sustainable change we need to share power with people all over Gloucestershire – and we’ll have to reinvent ourselves to do it.
I’ve spent much of my career trying to change something. I’ve invested passion, time and money to shape policies, behaviours, laws and attitudes. Along the way, I learned to invest some of that effort in keeping an eye on my own organisation – and knowing when change is needed at home.
Active Gloucestershire is an incredible place to work. For eighteen years, we have supported the delivery of physical activity opportunities across our county. We work with coaches, health providers, schools, community groups, clubs and professional bodies. Because of us, thousands of people who might otherwise have stayed at home have taken part in sports and physical activities. We are a hub of expertise, advice and ideas you won’t find anywhere else in Gloucestershire. By any measure, we’re a roaring success.
And yet…physical activity levels in Gloucestershire are not really changing and we are not reaching the least active. It’s the same story across the country. That’s important because one in five people are actually inactive. This puts their physical and mental health at risk, and means they miss out on fun, friendships and feeling good.
Clearly, something here doesn’t add up, and we can’t avoid the conclusion it’s our own diagnosis. If not enough people are physically active, we can either carry on creating more and more sporting opportunities for them, or we can stop and ask ‘why?’ It’s time for a different tack.
Over the next few years, Active Gloucestershire will start supporting the most inactive people and communities to identify the changes they want to see. Instead of doing ‘for’ people, we’re going to start doing ‘with’. That means listening to them about the barriers they face and what will help remove them. It means we stop leading from the front and start supporting an emerging movement of people and organisations from behind. This movement is called Gloucestershire Moves.
The consequences for the shape of Active Gloucestershire are immense. We’re starting a different conversation with our community of professionals and volunteers, reskilling our staff, reshaping our relationships with funders and partners – pretty much everything we do needs to be rethought.
Crucially, our governance needs to shift radically. We’ll be moving towards a model that allows the movement to be co-owned by its members. If we’re genuinely changing our relationship with people, we need to be willing to share any power we have and to let go of the ‘command and control’ model so comfortable for ourselves, our trustees and our funders.
I have been impressed by the way that staff and supporters have stepped up and been willing to embrace the change. In many ways, we’re taking a risk. We’re reinventing Active Gloucestershire entirely, to the point where the organisation we have been up until now will essentially disappear. Yet the greater risk is ignoring the facts about physical inactivity, with all the consequences that has for people’s lives and our county’s future.
Deborah Potts is Chief Executive of Active Gloucestershire