Written by Lorna Leach, Director of Transformation at Active Lincolnshire.
It’s the almost overwhelming sense of trying to hold back the tide of factors that I see racing to the shore. All of which can contribute to increased levels of inactivity, particularly amongst those who benefit the most from being active, if not carefully considered and tackled with ingenuity by all stakeholders across Lincolnshire.
I thought the impact of the pandemic on the public leisure and traditional sports club parts of the physical activity and sport sector was going to the most challenging threat to individual physical activity levels I’d see in my career, but now we have the cost-of-living crisis and spiraling energy costs effecting organisations, facilities, workforce, and participants. These are interlinked issues, creating a Wicked Problem, where each has the potential to exacerbate the others.
A non-exhaustive list of the big things on my mind are:
- Individuals rising costs mean more households in fuel poverty, more making the choice between heat and food. Being active helps keep you warm, but it also makes you hungry. As a start we need programmes that combine food and activity together e.g. Holiday Activity Fund (HAF), or combine warmth and provide activity equipment and instruction (see bullet 5).
- However, being active through a sports club or leisure center costs money to participate, money to get there, money for equipment. Projects could set up kit-swaps or donation schemes. There’s the option for ‘pay it forward’ approach where those that can afford to pay for a class or swim for someone who can’t to claim in the future. Or memberships that pay an extra pound a month which goes into a hardship fund that can be used to subsidise activities for others.
- When times are tight people switch to cash. The Post Office data shows almost one in five people are using cash to help with budgeting but many providers haven’t switched back to accepting cash following the pandemic immediately stopping some users from participating. It might be additional process to have to balance the till at the end of a shift and do a bank run, but if it means some residents can still be active isn’t it worth it?
- Energy costs are rising for community clubs and facilities running the risk of permanent closures. This is particularly risky with older buildings that are less likely to be energy efficient and therefore cost more to heat and light. Older buildings are more likely to be located in areas with high levels of deprivation which is also where inactivity is higher. Identifying energy saving solutions from LED lighting and timer switches to heat pumps and seeking ways to fund these interventions so sites remain open or reducing hours temporarily to ensure long-term survival are reasonable cost outlays or income reductions. We have to lobby Government to own their part in solving this problem and get them to extend their support packages to encompass our sector.
- Colder conditions in facilities are more noticeable to older adults, those with long-term health conditions and disabilities, and younger children, creating experiences that are less enjoyable, leading to drop-out. It can also increase the risk of injury for all participants. We need to be honest about why heating’s turned down and communicate that it’s acceptable to wear warmer clothing or additional layers while being active.
- Although petrol has dropped recently it’s still higher than January 2022 so whether it’s the workforce travelling around the county to deliver activities, officiate or getting players to their matches, it adds up. We need to think radically different to how fixtures work to make them cost effective to those hosting and those travelling. Can we make Active Travel choices and promote options like the Cycle Loan Scheme.
Image by Liz Fosslien of Liz and Mollie.
It’s easy to feel a bit lost when faced with the above (and that’s only scratching the surface) and wonder where to start, but the truth is as a sector we have to start everywhere. There is no ONE thing we can do, instead we must do many small and medium sized things in a bid to break down this huge, complex problem.
- We must unite with other sectors and seek opportunities to bring resource together to make it go further to greater impact. Be it combining funding streams, joining services and interventions together, or sharing resources (facilities, staff, equipment) we must be collaborative.
- We must set policies, new processes and budgets.
- We must be prepared to take bold decisions that might (for a short while) been seen unfavourably but in the long-term will ensure survival of opportunities especially for those who need them most.
- We must shout loudest about the activities that are free to access like walking, running, weightlifting bags of flour, dancing round your kitchen, using outdoor gyms.
I believe that, together, we can hold back the tide. That between us we have the creativity, the experiences and the resources to tackle these problems.
If you have an idea, a case study, a link to resources or information that should be on the Active Lincolnshire knowledge hub for Cost of Living and Environmental Sustainability let me know, we’d love to talk.