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A hybrid model could be the way forward to get
more people active

A free webinar at 10 am (BST) on Wednesday 21st October

It’s time for a rethink and re-set for providers of community sport and physical activity

The coronavirus has had a profound impact on the way that many people exercise and enjoy sport.  Due to lockdowns, we could not (and in many cases, we still can’t) go to leisure centres or indoor sports clubs, or even join our Saturday morning Parkrun.

In many countries, the traditional leisure facilities are therefore facing considerable financial pressure, whilst workout-at-home brands like Peloton, Nautilus and NordicTrack are reporting massive increases in the number of subscribers, cycling is becoming increasingly popular (In the UK there is a shortage of bikes) and Amazon and Google are joining Apple and many others in launching fitness apps and videos.

                                    Family cycling                                                                                              Cycling at home

We are also an increase in the number of people joining traditional sports clubs but in more flexible ways.  In Denmark, they are seeing many families joining clubs but as part of a ‘motionsfællesskab’, or ‘exercise community’ which has proved popular with females who won’t/can’t commit to regular classes.  We are also experiencing golf clubs where people don’t have to join as members but simply buy say, 100 points, where a round on Saturday costs, say, 10 points whereas a round on a Monday afternoon only costs 4 points.
We are also experiencing a growing number of non-sports bodies, such as housing, patient associations and social enterprises delivering physical activity programmes to residents, patients and clients, respectively.

Cancer sufferer enjoying exercise provided by McMillan Cancer Support

Complacent people are mostly content with the status quo. “Yes, the numbers are down but that is down to X-Factor, the Government, funding cuts or the Internet. Nothing to do with what we do, and don’t do here.” (Yes, I am sure you have heard all the excuses and more).

It is certainly a case of the widest possible number of opportunities for being physically active we have probably ever had.

So, the question is whether we can really talk about ‘the sector’ as if there is one big homogenous community sport and leisure sector when there are so many diverse providers?

Does the average community sports club really welcome overweight people with underlying health conditions?  Does the fitness enthusiast want to (re)join their studio/centre when they have now taken out a £50 per month subscription to Peloton?  Can the family which has been used to doing family sport in the back garden join your place as a family? Family football or cricket, anyone?
My recommendation is that community sports and exercise providers, be they clubs, centres or must start developing and delivering what we now call ‘hybrid sport’ where they work with different formats, providers at various places and providing digital experiences and communication as described below:

So, we recommend that you accept that you will not return to the ‘old’ normal and that the ‘new’ normal will look distinctly different and that you will have to accept that.

Start with where you are right now.  If you are a place-based organisation such as a leisure centre, consider whether you can use other spaces nearer people’s lives such as football for men with dementia at care homes.  Can you work with community bodies to engage with unengaged and disengaged groups, develop new,  more appropriate formats and start using Zoom classes or online videos to engage with people at home?

So, you should take a more person-centred approach and not just “we are a rugby club/leisure centre and this is what we do’.  Consider a single mum with two kids who wants to exercise twice a week in front of the telly, join a social netball session once a week (when she has time) and attend, with the kids a family fit session on Sundays.  Can you meet her needs?

Yes, it will require new thinking and skills – but as Darwin said:

Active Tameside showing the way:  Tameside is a Borough in Greater Manchester with a population of around 225.000 people and is in the top 20% of the most deprived areas in the UK and where approximately 10% of the population have a disability or special need and roughly 10% of children live in poverty.

Active Tameside has over the years has been transformed into a social enterprise with a strong focus on health and social outcomes. There is a wide range of leisure and sports facilities, but what makes the organisation stand out is a wide range of (non-sports) partners and its work and delivery out in the community.

They’ve continued to deliver regular Health Walks – essential for maintaining fitness, social interaction and wellbeing for many vulnerable, older adults – easing concerns and encouraging those who need it most to take part, with six walks now back up and running across the borough.

Over the last few months, the trust has pulled out all the stops to keep in touch with its members and residents by live-streaming workouts and quizzes, posting online fitness instructor videos, nutrition, health and wellbeing advice, exercise resources and insightful blogs.