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How the ACTIVE Network project came to an end

The first project focusing on cross-sector collaboration between local authorities and sport organisation supported by European Union came to an end in Birmingham between 12 and 14 June.


During the closing conference, one main point came into light and that was that such relationships are very valuable in facilitating and promoting sport for all initiatives in many different settings. The closing conference concluded with 15 municipality and sport organisation partnerships from 13 countries sharing what they had achieved through the project and listening to presentations from their peers and guest speakers from the UK and Greece.


Challenges and successes in the English context

The local guest speakers delivered the first plenary sessions and workshops on the first full day of the conference on 13 June. Paul Jarvis from StreetGames opened the session “The most valuable partnership – Local authorities and sport organisations”, pointing out the poor versus rich dilemma in England. He described how a normalisation process is unfolding in deprived areas, which can be quite frightening for local residents:


“13-year-olds see a lot of crime. For them, this seems part of normal life. Financial difficulties are perceived as normal. Mental health problems, like depression, are also seen as normal. This is quite scary,” he said.


Jarvis stressed that this is why it is so important for local authorities and sports organisations to tap into the financial and social potential of physical activity and bring this to the attention of higher authorities.


“Sport and physical activity are of interest to commissioners and policy makers,” he said. “If you use the volunteer model, which I know that you all do, it means you can start from a core and grow out quite rapidly. That’s of great interest in times where money is scarce and it does bring people together. So in terms of social inclusion, it’s great because through sport you can celebrate both the similarities and differences between people.”


The guest speakers also demonstrated how they used innovative strategies to get their average citizens involved in sport and physical activity at a community level. Karen Creavin from Birmingham City Council presented their campaign “Be Active”, which allows local citizens to access leisure centres cost free. This has seen a boom in participation by 70%, drawing people who had not been members of the centres before. As a result of this local authority/sport organisation initiative to remove the cost barrier to physical activity, Creavin said that now “more people choose to participate in this scheme than they choose to vote”.


ACTIVE Network participants give more examples of successful initiatives

Successful cross-sector collaboration was exemplified through initiatives presented by ACTIVE Network participants Gerry Campbell from South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture (SLLC) in Scotland and Lena Knorr from State Capital Stuttgart in Germany. Campbell presented twice during the conference, illustrating from SLLC’s experience how community libraries and art studios can become active spaces and explaining how to build cross-sector networks at a local and national level. He mentioned SLLC’s Arts Culture and Exercise (ACE) Membership for children aged 12 weeks to 15 years as a successful initiative which is the first of its kind in Scotland and the first they know of in the UK to bring these three elements of leisure together.


“We believe that this is one of the most effective interventions for capturing young people and changing their behaviour,” he said.


Knorr pointed out in her presentation “Fit for life – How to start in your city?” that what she had learned through her experience in the ACTIVE Network project was that in “overcoming differences, you must focus on the things you have in common” and “it has to be very clear in the beginning what you want to do or you’ll be lost”.


Teresa Tena Marmaneu from the City of Castellon in Spain said that local authorities should not ignore the value sport and physical activity can add to the tourism industry.


“The presence of physical activity improves and makes the difference for any touristic offer,” she said, adding from her city’s experience with the successful Marató i Mitja event that “sport and tourism is win-win cooperation and we have proved it. Partnerships between local authorities and sports organisations have something very special because they are coherent, realistic and open.”


Georgios Farfaras from Greenways Social Cooperative Enterprise in Greece was not involved in the ACTIVE Network project, but he added extra insights into the value of sport tourism in Europe, saying that Europeans spend approximately €53 euro per day on a total of 2.8 million bicycle sightseeing trips per year. He also showed how municipalities can take innovative approaches to turning urban spaces into sporting fields, using Thessaloniki’s urban rugby field as an example:


“It was something new for Greece to turn a square into a rugby field,” he said.


ACTIVE Network project closes – but sport organisation and local authority partnerships are here to stay

Partnerships are good for keeping you on track, as teamwork is more efficient than working alone. The ACTIVE Network project took on a specific role to exploit well-functioning partnerships between sport organisations and different local authorities with the aim to spread good practices to other, as well as the importance of initiating further cross-sector collaboration. Its closing conference was a testament to these partnerships and a promise of exciting possibilities for collaboration in the future.


By Roxana Chiriac, ISCA