It’s no secret that living an active lifestyle is key to good health, wellbeing and happiness, and yet the UK remains some way behind its neighbours when it comes to participating in sport and recreation.
Physical inactivity has a proven link to chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease and has led to as many as 37,000 premature deaths in England every year. While 26% of British adults are classified as obese, the problem is increasingly affecting younger people. Public Health England has identified that almost a quarter of children are now overweight at the age they start school.
Critical to correcting these trends in the longer-term is encouraging people to exercise and regularly participate in sports-related activity, and in January the Local Government Association called on the Government to expand its sports funding to tackle childhood obesity. However, a number of local authorities have already proactively begun to take action.
Recognising the challenge of being among the least active council areas in England, Slough Borough Council rolled out a new £60m leisure strategy aimed at providing everyone that lives and works in the town access to physical activity and sport that meets their needs. Its vision is to encourage the adoption of regular exercise as a habit – seeing more people, more active, more often.
Slough Urban Renewal (SUR) – a 50:50 joint venture partnership between the council and Morgan Sindall Investments – is committed to investing in facilities that will improve the wellbeing of local residents. Set up to revitalise the borough and deliver essential community facilities, the partnership has put sport-led regeneration at its heart as it looks to make a meaningful difference to people’s lives.
In contrast to many similar council-led partnerships, SUR has a broader portfolio of projects including a distinct focus on leisure. Among its primary objectives is to help tackle health issues head on by providing local people with more opportunities and choice as they take control of their own health and wellbeing.
Since SUR was established in 2013, it has been supporting the council to implement its new strategy and by putting the emphasis on investment in new leisure facilities. The partnership has already achieved a number of major milestones and is continuing to deliver with pace and quality.
SUR has delivered Arbour Park, a new state-of-the-art 1,950-person capacity community sports stadium with a 3G artificial pitch that is the new home of Slough Town Football Club. The town’s Ice Arena is also currently undergoing a major refurbishment and extension which, once opened in the spring, will provide an exciting new leisure facility for local residents and visitors as well as hosting the local ice hockey team.
The former bowling alley at Salt Hill Park is currently being transformed into a family activity centre with six ten pin bowling lanes, a large soft play area, caving and trampolining zones, a high wire climbing zone, party rooms, café and bar. It will open in June along with a newly refurbished Langley Leisure Centre.
Elsewhere, on behalf of the council, SUR is constructing a new flagship £18m leisure centre with a 25m swimming pool, learner pool, sports hall, fitness centre and exercise studios, due to be completed in 2019. There are also a number of smaller initiatives underway, including the installation of ten new outdoor gyms in some of the town’s award-winning parks.
By working collaboratively with the council’s new leisure operator Everyone Active, these upgrades and investments are providing a broader platform for a far-reaching programme of sporting activities. The council’s dedicated Active Slough team are championing healthier lifestyles for the local community by supporting organisations and groups in delivering cultural activities. Their role is to aid the development of sports, play and arts opportunities across the borough, encouraging people of all ages to get active and live more physical lifestyles.
Results can be seen first-hand through SUR’s sponsorship of Slough’s netball club, which has seen a hugely successful programme of getting girls including those from ethnic minority backgrounds back into sport, while the town’s popular half marathon will be revived later this year.
Getting people fitter and healthier delivers significant health and social benefits in terms of the health and wellbeing, but also has the potential to contribute to major economic savings too: physical inactivity is estimated to directly cost the NHS over £1.6bn per year across the UK.
With increasingly stretched local authority budgets, private developers have a growing responsibility to residents to deliver meaningful regeneration for the current and future good of their communities, beyond simply delivering housing and other units at high volumes.
Sport and physical activity can therefore play a major role in urban renewal and potentially help to attract further inward investment. By delivering positive social and economic impacts for local communities, sport-led regeneration shows what can be achieved when partnerships put people first.
Andy Howell is the general manager of Slough Urban Renewal