Fields in Trust welcomes the publication of "Sporting Future" the New Strategy published by Sports Minister Tracey Crouch today. The aim is to use sport to improve people's lives - helping young people gain skills to get into work, to tackle social inclusion and improve physical and mental health. In this article Fields in Trust Chief Executive Helen Griffiths, responds to the Government's new strategy.
We are particularly pleased to see the strategy focus on creating a more active nation rather than simply increasing sports participation. This is an approach Fields in Trust strongly promoted in our consultation submission.
Sport England's expanded responsibility, working with young people from the age of five, (currently 14) will increase the number of children getting active earlier and develop habits that will last a lifetime. Whilst it is right that public money should be invested to achieve a meaningful, measurable impact we hope that, the role of play as a precursor to all subsequent physical activity will be both acknowledged and represented in a way that does not require prescriptive direction and stifling evaluation. Children learn physical literacy through play long before they participate in any structured sporting activity and yet there is no mandatory provision for play spaces to start them on the life long journey to sustained physical activity.
The drive to increase participation rates to encourage those who do not take part in sport and physical activity to get involved is something we particularly welcome – our "Have A Field Day" community engagement programme during 2015 saw around 70,000 people participating in 362 community-run events in parks, playing fields and recreation grounds across the UK.
We welcome an examination of sports governance, we support the approach to tackling and removing the threat of corruption from sport and we value the significant financial contribution of sport and recreation to the UK economy.
Whilst the strategy is very strong on who should be involved, and how sports should be run – we are concerned that there is no clear promise from Government about where people will be getting more active. Crucially none of the Key Performance Indicators within the strategy mention infrastructure, which could raise questions about measurement and implementation. Arguably the number and area of playing fields are some of the easier data to collect. The strategy sets out to redefine what success looks like by concentrating on five key outcomes that clearly measure impact, but there is no indicator for protecting and securing outdoor space.
We believe recognition needs to be given to the vitally important role of informal spaces for sport and play in contributing to health and activity levels. Currently these spaces are overlooked both in terms of funding and statutory provision. Local parks, playgrounds and other recreational spaces provide opportunities for families and the wider community to participate in informal activities but they are woefully underrepresented. Our recent survey revealed that nearly all (95%) agree that parks and play areas should be protected from development and 82 % feel so strongly that they would be motivated to campaign against the loss of a park to redevelopment. Two thirds (69%) state that the loss of parks would be detrimental to children's development and half of respondents admitted that they would be less active if their local green space was built on.
We look forward to a new sporting year in 2016 – an Olympic year during which our elite athletes will be competing in Rio, inspiring future Olympians and our football teams will be competing at EURO 2016. But every one of our elite champions take their first steps to victory in the parks playgrounds and playing fields that Fields in Trust has been protecting since 1925. Without the spaces to play sport - the ambition of a more active nation cannot be realised.