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Getting people active through football

Our football relationship manager Asad Qureshi blogs about our investment in the Football Foundation's new project using football to encourage activity.

25th November 2021

by Asad Qureshi
Football relationship manager, Sport England

The Active Through Football programme is a new project we’ve funded the Football Foundation to deliver, that works with communities in new ways that promote increased activity levels.

Last year, 50 areas across England were identified and organisations such as local authorities, county FA’s and community club organisations were invited to form consortiums with community groups to apply for up to £1 million of investment.

This summer, the 13 consortia were chosen to receive the investment aimed at increasing physical activity and tackling inequalities in their area.

Over the coming months we anticipate up to 12 more consortia being awarded, taking the total number of places we're working with to 25 - from a total pot of £15m of National Lottery funding

Here, I’m going to explain why this project is different to others and give some examples of how the key principles of the project are already being put into place.

Taking a place-based approach

Working alongside the Football Foundation, we worked hard to highlight the new place-based approach focussed on community engagement instead of generic consultation.

Consortiums were asked to focus on small areas and well-defined target audiences by engaging at a level deeper than the local statistical data and insight they already had.

We wanted to hear the story of the place and those within it and were fascinated by some of the feedback from community engagement, with one of the common themes being frustration around the roll out of short-term projects by outside agencies.

We want Active Through Football communities to design, deliver and develop activities over a five-year period, with the ultimate goal being long-term behaviour change, representing a move away from short-term projects focused purely on attendance targets.

This is a change in the way of working for many of the organisations involved and appears to be a welcomed one, with many consortiums highlighting the true partnership being championed locally and encouraging development through learning, and ultimately benefiting communities.

Community engagement

Community engagement is a central thread running throughout the programme, and in the application process consortiums were asked to engage with their communities to understand their needs.

Despite the challenges that Covid-19 created for people to come together, we were impressed with how many consortia were able to use a variety of engagement methods to speak with local people and, more importantly, listen.

Tea and toast mornings, promotional videos, road-side media and community connectors were some of the methods employed, and the willingness of local people to share is something to be recognised and respected.

The willingness of local people to support development within their own community is also something that stood out and the recognition that football can play a vital role in this is key to the programme’s success.

Principle into practise

The Argyle Community Trust, headed up the consortium in Plymouth, found that residents were frustrated from being “over sold and under-delivered” to, and have vowed to work with residents to identify community champions, ensuring local people always have a voice within the programme.


With a programme of this size, we recognise that trust and ownership must be given to the communities themselves and, as community engagement highlighted, this was something many of those within communities wanted.

There was a recognition that human assets already exist within communities and a focus should be on the recruitment and development of these as opposed to external resources being brought in.

We’ll work with places to really delve into people development at a localised level and ensure the decision-making power and influence is held by those locals who can create the biggest impact.

To help this happen, consortiums were tasked with creating initial delivery plans in conjunction with those engaged and given license to be creative.

The core principles of delivery are centred around recreational and small-sided football, i.e. any format of the game below the traditional 11v11 format, providing an accessible route into football activity.

Principle into practise

The Leeds consortium, led by Leeds United Foundation, will focus on supporting inactive adults in Beeston and the surrounding wards by using local venues, including existing multi-use games areas, parks and community centres to deliver sessions including, but not limited to, female-only, futsal, walking football and soccercise.

Behaviour change

A commitment to place-based working over the five-year programme period aims to create a long-term change in habits and attitude towards physical activity.

This includes a change in attitude to health, nutrition, and general lifestyle and while we accept this is no easy challenge, we feel by working in a targeted way and ensuring a bottom-up approach where local people make the decisions, we can meet this aim.

Principle into practise

Wakefield Council, who lead the consortium in Wakefield, has identified additional outcomes they hope to achieve, which include employment and skills progression, additional health support and increased community cohesion and safety.

By aligning with other existing plans such as the area’s Playing Pitch Strategy and previous capital investment, alongside a strong partnership including local voluntary sector and commercial organisations, the council feel they’re well placed to make a real impact in their chosen communities.


Learning is a central tenet of Active Through Football and it’s accepted that those involved, including us and Football Foundation, are on a journey together where mistakes are seen as opportunities to develop.

We’ve already seen strong examples of collaboration at various stages of the programme roll out and consortiums have highlighted that they’re pleased to be able to work in this way.

The willingness of communities to share with each other will also be utilised within the programme and we will create a strong community of learning, where best practise can be shared with other places across the programme.

Principle into practise

The Stockton-on-Tees consortium, led by North Riding county FA, will target groups such as those with long-term health conditions or adults with learning disabilities and will use its wide range of consortium members to support work with these groups. Charitable organisations with experience of working with these groups are already part of a strong consortium committed to sharing learning across the programme and beyond.

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