As a child, I had everything I needed, but rarely got everything I wanted.
I had a comfortable and warm home, a bedroom of my own, and a good night’s sleep was never a problem.
I had three meals a day without question; breakfast set me up well for the walk around the corner to school, where I arrived ready to learn and play.
Whatever the weather, I was always playing out in the garden or on the street. I loved running around and playing games, and the relentless support from family, teachers and friends helped me to access my local hockey club, where I still play now 20 years on.
This gave me opportunities to develop my character, push myself out of my comfort zone, build lifelong friendships and to broaden my horizons along the way.
My childhood journey into sport and activity wasn’t particularly exciting or unique, but I believe it was a privileged journey because the environment around me meant that I never had to struggle or fight for a healthy, happy and active childhood.
My engagement and enjoyment of activity was not just down to my motivation alone; there were many visible, and invisible, others playing a leading and supportive role in shaping the places, spaces, people and experiences that I encountered.
Meanwhile, children who lived just a few streets away from me had comparatively limited opportunity and it felt that often their chances to engage in or enjoy activity were restricted.
Many years on, those inequalities still exist in society today, despite a range of well-intentioned projects and programmes that are designed and delivered to tackle them. The traditional sport and activity sector has been great at supporting me, but after all this time, it is still not giving everyone an equal chance to take part.
It’s time to do something different – but where do we start?
When I first joined the Doncaster local delivery pilot, there was already a compelling vision and ambition to tackle the stubborn inequalities in health and wellbeing. Things were already happening to lay the foundations for change, for example:
- Our director of public health supported a culture underpinned by three values – learn by doing, make the invisible visible, and relentless kindness.
- ‘Well Doncaster’ had started in one of our communities, testing and learning an asset-based community development approach to health and wealth.
- Doncaster Active Travel Alliance had formed – a multi-agency partnership to promote collaborative working across provision, infrastructure and policy.
- The Tour de Yorkshire had captured the imagination of communities and senior leaders.
What we're doing in Doncaster
We started our pilot journey with Sport England by understanding people and our diverse communities. At our core, we are collaborating with communities to co-create change from the bottom up, which is helping to learn about the conditions, principles and practical considerations needed to influence positive change at every level of the system we live in.
A good example of this is the systems mapping process we used, led by Dr Nick Cavill, where residents and stakeholders from different sectors worked together to identify the factors affecting activity and inactivity levels in Doncaster. When you look at the map, there are probably no surprises, but the process helped the participants to understand each other and learn more about the role they could play in leading a change.