Physical activity is my life, physical activity is my work, and it’s my passion, particularly in relation to health conditions.
Active Reach is an initiative that was funded through Sport England as a result of the pandemic. Active Oxfordshire are the strategic enabler of the project or the ‘honest broker’, if you like. We work closely with Sport England who wanted to utilise us as the very local partner, to distribute the funding down through us, and then immediately out to the partners. So, it enabled them to act very quickly. We took the opportunity to really reach those communities that were negatively impacted upon as a result of Covid. This was a specific opportunity to be very targeted. Those targeted community groups had to meet the criteria, had to be from either a low socio-economic group, or people with, long-term health conditions and/or disabilities, or the BAME communities.
For me it's been a very positive spin out of adversity - taking this opportunity to utilise specific funding to enable those communities that we really want to empower and enable them to be physically active for both physical and mental health benefits.
Phase one was in the Blackbird Leys, Greater Leys area. We worked with eight partners in that area to determine what they could deliver and how they can get it out there. But we worked very closely with Oxford Hub. We all realised very quickly that we didn't want this to be delivered through separate pathways. We wanted it to be connected - to make sure that we had a bit of a wrap-around approach within that community, to really understand their needs. And it wasn’t single, segregated activity opportunities that went in the bid, but each of them brought their own expertise. This was coordinated through the Hub and some of the funding supported this coordination role. It was more of a joined up, connected approach.
The role of Oxford Hub was very critical on the ground in Phase one. Emma Anderson played that key role of coordinating across the partners to make sure that the activity provision didn't conflict - that it complemented, that it was timed, particularly over, for example, the summer period, where there was a focus on activity for children and families.
Sport England recognised that we, as one of the third sector partners, can provide that enabler role to ultimately facilitate a very agile, very reactive, quick response to get to those communities in need, rather than waiting for a typical bureaucratic approach. The aim was to alleviate the immediate pressure on our public health and NHS colleagues by supporting those communities directly. I worked with a colleague. We linked with partners, they developed their application, and we gave them guidance in line with what Sport England required.
Sport England then announced a second round of funding. They gave feedback to us in terms of where the project spend has gone so far. They highlighted that a lesser proportion of funding was going to the BAME communities. We had an opportunity to then focus our attention to Banbury Grimsbury area, and worked with our district colleagues there who very much had connections on the ground in terms of what their communities needed, their demographics.
It was an opportunity for some smaller partner organisations to be able to be supported. Organisations like Mind, Age UK, Aspire and others still played a key role in Phase two, because they have a specific area of expertise. Age UK would still link across older people for example. But, then there was smaller community groups, such as the Banbury Mosque, and Banbury United Football Club, the latter who supported as a community facilitator there. Also some other smaller groups - very much Church based facilities. Phase two enabled these smaller groups to come to the table and raise awareness of their relatively smaller population, who have been significantly impacted upon.
Normally I work with the public sector, with the districts, with the Public Health, with CCG, with primary care practices and so on, but of course, there are public sector bureaucracies that naturally take a lot longer to process and put in place. All credit to Sport England. They released this funding to get it out to communities urgently. The ability to get the money to the communities, via these third sector partners and to land it immediately is very satisfying. Sport England has also been very flexible. Throughout we’ve been in contact about issues, ongoing concerns and successes and this has been feedback informally and formerly through webinars etc. Obviously there were concerns around September, October time regarding whether the partners were going to be able to deliver this? Then from November onwards, it was severe restrictions – and the partner’s real concerns about the inability to deliver in line with their original planned activity. We fed this back to Sport England. They extended the timeline for delivery, in recognition of the fact that unfortunately, at the moment, some of these activities just cannot happen. They also reassured partners that no one will lose their money, or the intention of ultimately supporting these communities.
We know that there's a lot of good work that goes on in Oxfordshire, but we are so disconnected. The collaborative working with our partners has been really productive and had a very positive outcome; the agility, the flexibility, the collaboration, the positivity around it all, to work cohesively together, knowing that there's no ‘I’ in this team. We all worked very collectively to be able to support and deliver this to our communities in need.
Reducing the friction, reducing the barriers, getting it to those people in need is the critical element of the Tackling Inequalities Fund. It had to be able to reach those in most need, who’d had significant impact as a result of Covid. And the only way we could do that was by working through these third sector partners who were already there, well embedded with their communities, knowing their communities. So yes, that for us, was huge.
We've been getting some very strong feedback in relation to the change that having for example, specific activity equipment has made, to enable those children to then be active, (tennis rackets for instance) - what might appear to be very small improvements, small nuggets, but actually were quite powerful and made a difference to those families and those individuals.
So it was very busy, but it's also been very, very satisfying. We have an opportunity to really impact on our communities’ needs through physical activity, as appropriate for an individual. And there’ll be all sorts of complex needs out there at the moment, this isn't a one size fits all approach. I suppose this is where it's an opportunity for me to encourage more investment in physical activity in the future - a relatively cheap preventative option, as opposed to the acute cost of medications and treatments and hospitalisation.
We’re not a delivery partner, but for us to be able to enable our partners to make that critical engagement with the community. Then from a community's perspective, not to be done to but to be part of the development and the initiative is the difference. The third sector partners, they’re the ones that are skilled and they know their communities, they work with them in terms of the community engagement. So it's not just us saying, ‘We think this is a great idea, you take the money and deliver it.’ They’re telling us what’s important. It's not a top down approach. It really is that community organic development there in terms of what the need is and what can be supported through this. But we have to make something sustainable out of this create a legacy from this to learn for the future.