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How This Girl Can is developing to support the fitness and leisure sector

Kate Dale, our lead for This Girl Can, blogs about the importance of the new guidance released this week to help gym and leisure facilities encourage more women to get and stay active.

11th November 2021

by Kate Dale
This Girl Can lead, Sport England

One of the first pieces of This Girl Can research I saw back in 2014 was women talking about the ‘dreadmill’, and viewing gym sessions as punishment for not having the right sort of body or diet.

When we launched the This Girl Can campaign back in 2015, liberating women from the fear of judgement that stops them from getting active was our bold mission statement.

When more women feel they can get active without worrying what others think, then more will be able to enjoy the benefits it brings and we can tackle the stubborn gender activity gap, too.

However, in 2021, This Girl Can recognises that while we still need to influence how woman are thinking and feeling in relation to being active, we also need to look at the more systemic and practical things that make a difference in helping more women turn the intention of getting active, into action.

The environments within fitness and leisure facilities are important for sustaining women’s activity levels; prior to the pandemic, 21% of women were regular participants in fitness classes, while the number taking part in weights sessions was also seeing an increase.

A woman lead an exercise class, using small dumbbells during a punching exercise.

This is why I’m so pleased we’ve been working with ukactive to this week launch sector-leading guidance that will help gyms and leisure centres take the practical steps that will help more women and girls feel able to turn up, join in and keep coming back – as we know there is demand, based on pre-pandemic behaviours.

The more we can all do to understand the emotions and expectations that women are bringing when they walk through a fitness or leisure facility’s doors, sit in the car park summoning the nerve to go in or scurry past without crossing the threshold, the better we are able to build businesses that meet their needs.

The new guidance, with checklists and tips underpinned by fresh insights, will support the sector to do just this.

We need women’s experience of getting active to match the inclusive and welcoming standards that our collective This Girl Can campaigning calls for.

This means that if someone cautiously tries a new fitness class, or comes back to the gym after a long gap (and let’s face it, we’re all having that experience after the last 18 months), they’re met with the support they need to feel empowered to keep coming back.

The environments within fitness and leisure facilities are important for sustaining women’s activity levels.

Crucially this guidance is based on what women have told us – through extensive research and focus groups with both gym-users and non-gym-users – they are looking for in fitness and leisure facilities.

Women make up 51% of the population; that is a lot of exciting untapped growth potential for a sector that was hit hard by the pandemic.

So this new guidance goes further than we’ve ever gone before with our This Girl Can insight, showing organisations in the sector what these findings mean for them and providing practical steps to implement the required changes.

This includes directing the sector towards other This Girl Can initiatives that have been developed to get women active, such as the This Girl Can fitness classes developed in partnership with EMD UK - which will be widely available early next year (sign up here to find out more), or the This Girl Can image library.

We as Sport England have always known we couldn’t empower women solely on our own – so we’ve always taken a collaborative approach.

The impact of This Girl Can so far (four million more active women) is down to a wide range of partners and organisations that are committed to making change happen.

So what’s exciting about this launch is that leading operators contributed to the development of the guidance and many more are already welcoming the opportunity to use it.

Let’s continue to work together on our joint mission to help women everywhere get active and stay active.

How to improve your services for women and girls: as told by the 51%.

Download the guidance

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