In a significant move to address the disparity in access to sports and physical activity, Sport England has committed a substantial £250 million investment over the next five years to boost participation in approximately 100 of England’s most socially deprived areas. This decision, described as a “major and unprecedented expansion of its investment in local communities,” aims to bridge the “manifestly unfair gap” in opportunities between affluent and disadvantaged communities.
Sport England’s chief executive, Tim Hollingsworth, emphasized that the allocated funds, representing a quarter of its budget, underscore the organization’s “unashamed reprioritization of our resources” to support those most in need. Hollingsworth highlighted the persistent inequality in access to sports and physical activity, stating, “Access to sport and physical activity in England is still not close to being a level playing field.”
He further explained that inhabitants of low-income communities often lack access to the facilities and opportunities readily available in wealthier areas. This disparity, Hollingsworth asserted, is “manifestly unfair.”
According to Sport England’s data, the most active areas in the country exhibit almost double the activity levels of the least active areas, with a stark contrast of 81% versus 43%. Additionally, lifespans can vary by up to nine years depending on an individual’s place of residence.
Hollingsworth expressed a firm resolve to address this imbalance, stating, “It’s very clear that we’re very good in this country in providing sport and physical activity for the majority. But we need to devote more of our focus and energy addressing the stubborn inequality of the third of people who don’t get the 30 minutes of weekly recommended activity.”
The new investment builds upon the success of the £100 million pilot scheme known as the Place Partners Programme. Implemented between 2017 and 2022, the program focused on 12 of England’s least active communities. Through close collaboration with local organizations, it facilitated initiatives such as Free Bikes in Birmingham and Beating the Streets in Burnley.
Encouraged by the positive outcomes of the pilot scheme, Sport England has decided to expand its investment by an additional £150 million over the next five years, enabling the expansion of opportunities to 80-100 new areas across the country.
Hollingsworth emphasized that the approach extends beyond mere financial allocation, stating, “This approach is not just about providing money. It’s about how you use it. We’re not going in and saying: ‘Here’s £10 million, spend it in this way.’ We’re asking: ‘What do you require?’, and working with locally trusted organizations.”
The initiative has garnered support from Stuart Andrew, the sports minister, who aims to get 3.5 million more people active by the year 2030 and this £250 million investment from Sport England will help make that a reality. According to him, this funding will enhance access to quality activities and clubs for individuals of all ages in areas with the greatest need.
Sport England’s investment in tackling inactivity in deprived areas marks a significant step towards bridging the gap in access to sports and physical activity. By working collaboratively with local organizations and tailoring initiatives to specific community needs, the initiative holds promise for promoting a more equitable and active society for all.