Project Description

A step in the right direction……

Posted: Tue, 19 Jul 2022 09:36

A step in the right direction……

It was encouraging to see the National Sector Partners Group collaborate and co-produce a piece of work that sought to set out the post-pandemic sector position and suggest some opportunities that might serve to improve the well-being of local communities through sport and physical activity.

The sector has been fragmented and disparate in the past and so we should acclaim the partners' leaders for assessing the state of the landscape and coalescing around some established objectives.

No matter what we might think of the detail this is definitely a step in the right direction and should be applauded.

Equally, the belief that the sector is capable of more effectively contributing to population health, was articulated passionately. Moreover, the over-arching theme of the sector being seen more clearly as a contributor within the notion of good health, rather than as a pastime or discretionary form of entertainment was also well positioned. Indeed, where provision of services or facilities through the public-purse is concerned, it is difficult to construct an argument of anything other than a purpose that is anchored in substantially improving the well-being and resultant productivity of local communities.

In fact it is the dynamic tension that exists between national strategy and local determination that is perhaps the over-riding take away from this piece. The relevance of this tension is heightened, perhaps unfortunately, by the publication by the National Audit Office of its review of Grassroots participation in sport and physical activity - a tough read that was particularly damming of the effectiveness of national funding initiatives finding little or no evidence of increased engagement in activity.

To explain, the very tenet of the NSPG document was as an 'ask' of government and agencies. However, we know that it is when good collaborative leadership and action is effected at a local level and is applied in real and relevant circumstances at a local level, that change or movement happens. What we should caution against is the view that solutions are inextricably connected to nationally-derived resourcing. I don't believe they are.

There are some exceptional exemplar cases being delivered across the UK that could have been used to more overtly highlight the potential that exists - the document is entitled 'Unlocking the Potential'. Using the outstanding examples that already exist and visioning their replication or multiplication might have augmented the power of the piece produced.

Some of that outstanding local work is a product of effective partnership working across the system. If we have learned something from the past two and a bit years, it is that success is more likely a derivative of collaboration and an appreciation of a collective effort. If we are seeking attention and crave credibility bestowed upon us by policy-makers then we have to demonstrate our own appreciation of the power of collectivism.

Those exemplars are the result of local determination within the context of existing local resources - self-help if you like. The ability of local leadership to confront issues and to have the courage to fashion bold and creative solutions.

For the avoidance of doubt, I don't contend that we have sufficient resource to "Unlock the Potential". However, I would argue that to 'unlock' resource (to borrow the terminology) we must illustrate our capability to shape our own solutions first, before we make our 'ask'.

We should not be waiting for central government to arrange our invite to the party, we should be focused on becoming credible and welcome guests by changing our behaviour, showing some humility, being prepared to be scrutinised, being insistent upon substantially enhanced production of insight and evidence. This requires investment now at scale in leadership development and capacity building as is happening already in ICSs to support the change in culture required.

These things, I believe, are precursors to the laudable and compelling objectives that the NSPG have defined.

My plea is that we give substantial credit to the development of this vision, and endorse its principle themes and intent……and we are able to critically appraise it and contribute to future iterations.

Doing so would enable us to augment the role improved leadership, the local determination and illustration of solutions, and the enhanced quantitative and qualitative insight and evidence could play in building an even more compelling case for a fulfilling and healthier future.

John Oxley


Moving Communities Board Member

July 2022

Tags: Featured, Local Government, Policy, Sport, Sport for development, community sport, school sport, sport england


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