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Social good: Learning from ParkLives

From Zumba to tai chi, ParkLives is tackling inactivity and social isolation by offering free activities. What can the sports and fitness industry learn from this initiative? Kath Hudson speaks to two key players

by Kath Hudson | Published in Sports Management Nov Dec 2017 issue 134
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Will Smithard

ukactive: strategic projects director

Will Smithard, ukactive
Will Smithard, ukactive

"Now in its fourth year, the ParkLives initiative was spearheaded by Coca-Cola Great Britain in the wake of the company’s sponsorship of the London Olympics. The ambition was to leave a lasting, positive legacy, benefitting thousands of people in local communities, including those living in some of the country’s most deprived areas.

Based on the model of Birmingham’s Be Active campaign, ParkLives delivers activities in parks and open spaces, and the key is to be local, accessible and flexible. The aims are to offer engaging, fun and sociable activities, which are free to access, and also to break down the common barriers of money and time. People will never be asked to make a financial contribution.

This is Coca-Cola GB’s largest Corporate Social Responsibility programme and is part of a £20m commitment to invest in community-based programmes. The company has been hands-on in driving the initiative: creating the ethos, brand and direction. ukactive came on board to measure and evaluate success and manage the programme, while delivery is down to local partners, who build programmes relevant to the needs of their community.

Gaining momentum
ParkLives kicked off in 2014 in three locations: Birmingham, Newcastle and the London Borough of Newham. All programmes were run by local authorities. These were followed in 2015 by Manchester, Glasgow and Nottingham and in 2016 by Southampton, Dundee, Swansea and Stoke on Trent.

The programme also reaches 35 further locations through a partnership with StreetGames, the long-standing charity partner of Coca-Cola Great Britain, that brings sport to the doorsteps of disadvantaged communities across the UK.

All cities were chosen for the strength of their proposals, as well as their levels of social need, and with the aim of creating a geographical spread. Now that 10 cities and StreetGames are on board, the growth of the programme will be from within.

The diversity of activities has grown in the last three years and each area is different. Southampton and Swansea have taken advantage of the abundance of lakes and water in their catchment area by running sailing and stand-up paddle boarding sessions, while cities like Newham have broadened their activity set by introducing DJ workshops, graffiti arts and even donkey grooming.

Popular city activities include Nordic walking groups, which tend to run all year and have had success in alleviating social isolation, as well as Zumba and tai chi. The summer holidays see a broader mix of activities, such as adventure trails, Quidditch, rounders, Nerf wars and den-building. Going forward, ParkLives programme managers will be looking to strike up more local partnerships to engage larger and new audiences, offering fun activities for all ages and abilities.

Engaging with leisure operators
Local delivery partners would welcome discussions with sports and fitness operators, in areas where ParkLives programmes are taking place, who either have responsibility for parks and green space, or would like to expand their activities into these spaces.

Although sessions have to be free to the public, operators might want to use some one-off park-based sessions as a business development opportunity to meet new audiences in the community.

The growth of parklives

2014
Birmingham, Newcastle and the London Borough of Newham

2015
Manchester, Glasgow and Nottingham

2016
Southampton, Dundee, Swansea
and Stoke on Trent

2017
Growth from within the network

“The ambition was to leave a positive legacy, benefitting thousands of people, including those in the most deprived areas” – Will Smithard, ukactive

ParkLives helps new mums to overcome social isolation
ParkLives helps new mums to overcome social isolation

Stuart Martin

Active Nation Southampton: managing director

Stuart Martin
Stuart Martin

“Southampton is one of the smallest cities in the programme, but we’ve achieved great results. Of those registered to take part, 73 per cent considered themselves inactive when they started. Sessions we deliver include Run 4 Fun, Buggymums, Family Play, Nordic walking and Paddleboard Yoga.

One big success story has been the Buggymums programme. We were approached by a health trainer who’d identified a need in her local area for a post-natal activity group. We found an instructor and put on a session that continued to go from strength to strength and now has an average of 20 mums attending each week, with their young children. These mums will tell you they feel better for being active and enjoy socialising with other mums, which helps to tackle isolation.

Drop-in classes
Unlike traditional exercise classes, which start and stop at a particular time, a lot of ParkLives sessions allow people to undertake as much or as little as they like. This approach can mean you start a session with five people, have 30 in the middle and only 10 at the end. Running this type of open programme requires dynamic, friendly and welcoming leaders and we hand-picked the most incredible team we could find to run our activities.

Expanding activities
People can be worried about the small things, like what to wear and if they’ll be able to keep up, so we created short, 60-second videos that give an insight into the sessions and settle anxieties.

ParkLives showed outstanding growth in its first year and in year two we’ve built on the lessons learned. Our main programme increased to 30 sessions a week, with more in the school holidays. We brought in guest activities, like Parkour, stand up paddleboarding, skiing and BMX. Gardening will be added at St James’ Park.

A ParkLives grant scheme, which allowed communities to access funds to run activities in their local parks, was also introduced in our second year.

Parklives– first three years

22,000 sessions

190,000
unique individual attendances

430,000
attendances in total

50%
of attendees in Birmingham are BAME 65% are in the poorest 20% of society

Find out more: www.parklives.com

“Southampton is one of the smallest cities in the programme, but we’ve achieved great results. Over 70 per cent considered themselves inactive when they started” – Stuart Martin, Active Nation Southampton

ParkLives Southampton has encouraged many families to get active
ParkLives Southampton has encouraged many families to get active
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