Skip to main content

Support active communities by involving them in designing sports programmes, research recommends


Developing and designing sports activities in partnership with the local community could be key to meeting government targets for raising activity levels, according to research involving physically inactive people in the London Borough of Hounslow.

It’s also a way to improve people’s wellbeing by making them feel happier.

Whether the sports are familiar ones such as swimming and badminton, or novel ones such as new age kurling, providing options that are tailored to people’s abilities and confidence makes the difference between success and failure for local authorities.

The study – led by a team of researchers from Brunel University London, and funded by Sport England – found that conducting focus groups with potential participants from the community, offering ‘taster’ sessions, and working and learning alongside local sports coaches and public health professionals, all resulted in a tailored community sports programme with increased levels of engagement.

Making local communities the focus of public health programmes has become more important since 2013, when the UK government made local authorities responsible for public health. But designing activities that tempt everyone, younger and older, into healthier lifestyles has remained a challenge.

“This is even more the case in socially diverse areas,” said Professor Louise Mansfield, Professor of Sport, Health and Social Sciences at Brunel. “It’s a challenge for local authorities to hit the national ambition of achieving a yearly increase in the proportion of all people who are physically active.”

In the Hounslow study, people from the local community who rated themselves as physically inactive helped experts design a two-stage sports programme: taster sessions followed by community sport sessions delivered by trained coaches.

Of the people who then took part in the sessions, 246 completed questionnaires before and after each stage to report how their levels of activity had changed. The results showed that days of doing vigorous physical activity or sport increased between 24 and 166% over the course of stage 1. The study also showed that participants reported being happier when taking part in community sport, and that sessions that are less physically intensive may be more effective at increasing a community’s activity levels.

“Novelty and variety did play a part in the success of the project – being able to discuss and try new sports and activities,” said Prof Mansfield. “But the success was also down to making adaptations to activities, especially in groups who didn’t feel confident.

“Tailoring activities to people’s abilities broadens the definition of ‘sport’ but also its appeal.”

These findings complement another recent paper on the study which showed how sports coaches made a vital contribution to supporting inactive people to take part in community sport.

Sarah Ruane, Sport England’s Strategic Lead for Health, welcomed the findings. “Sports coaches are a community asset and are integral to the design and delivery of community sport that makes a difference for public health and wellbeing.

“Combining research expertise, and that of public health and community sport professionals, with the hopes and needs of inactive people from local communities is a significant way of helping the community become more active, healthier and happier.”

‘The effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of a complex community sport intervention to increase physical activity’ by Nana Anokye, Louise Mansfield, Tess Kay, Sabina Sanghera, Alex Lewin and Julia Fox-Rushby, is published in BMJ Open.

This research complements the recent study ‘A qualitative investigation of the role of sport coaches in designing and delivering a complex community sport intervention for increasing physical activity and improving health’ by Louise Mansfield, Tess Kay, Nana Anokye and Julia Fox-Rushby, published in BMC Public Health in October 2018.

Find out more about Brunel University London's Welfare, Health and Wellbeing research theme.

Reported by:

Joe Buchanunn, Media Relations
+44 (0)1895 268821