Putting sport at the heart of a community





"By having the sessions locally it means I am able to participate, enjoy the health benefits and meet other people."  Ffit Rural Leisure participant

With 60% of its landscape classed as rural and in some cases isolated it's not surprising that Conwy County Borough Council needed to think outside of the box when looking to provide easy access to sports opportunities for all.

Which is why, alongside modern purpose-built sporting stadiums and gyms, church halls, school rooms and community centres have become essential to the area's sporting infrastructure.

Rather than asking residents to travel to sport, the Conwy team now take sport and physical activity right out into the nooks and crannies of the beautiful North Wales countryside and it's having a profound impact on the local communities.
Rural Leisure Officer, Tim Ballam, comments:

"5 years after an initial pilot, we're now seeing 400 regular participants at our sessions every week.

"We knew that there were many people in communities across Conwy that for a number of reasons could not, or did not feel comfortable accessing sport and leisure opportunities at our traditional centres."

The programme started with a surgery explaining the importance of keeping active as part of a healthy lifestyle.  Following on from the surgery, demand for more localised physical activity options was high, so Tim and the team at Conwy took actions to fill the gaps.

Tim explains:

"Through going out and talking with people in the communities, we found that there were many barriers stopping people from participating in sport and physical activity - we put a plan in action to address them.

"From not being able to travel due to age, disability or lack of means, to wanting to participate with other Welsh speakers- we quickly built a picture of what we needed to offer.

"We had a 'man on the ground' who was able to help us form quick relationships with the communities, which meant that we could offer sessions  that met demand and also offered a more personalised and 'friendly' option. We offered something that didn't require the build-up of confidence that maybe starting a new gym would.

"We now see those who would never have travelled to our traditional centres becoming regular 'hooked' participants alongside others who attend while still keeping up their normal club sport or gym habits.  In both cases it's great to see we're serving a purpose."
The Ffit Conwy Rural Fitness programme now runs via a membership scheme offering sessions such as studio cycling, Pilates and boxercise in various community settings including church halls, community centres, school halls and playing fields.

The programme has gone from strength to strength, complementing the offer from other Conwy Sport and Leisure programmes and also private clubs and gyms across the county. It has reached out to rural residents on more than just a location and convenience level and is for many of its regular participants at the heart of their community, offering a more active and social lifestyle.

How did they do it?

Tim and the team at Conwy have shared with us their top tips for setting up an outreach programme:

1. Consult with the Community

Beyond recognising that a good proportion of the rural population were not accessing sport and physical activity opportunities, Tim and the team put resource into understanding the communities that they wanted to work with.

Tim explains

"We found out what types of interests they had, where session would be most convenient, how long sessions should run for, when they should run and numbers to expect.

"This helped us to tailor the offering to meet demand.  It also highlighted importantly the need for the classes to be available in the Welsh language - something that has contributed greatly to their success."

2. Have a Point of Contact within your communities

"We employed people on the project that knew and lived among these communities which helped with the consultation.  It also meant sourcing venues became a little easier as these people often knew who in the community was responsible for hiring out halls and centres."

Having a go -to person on the ground also helped with word of mouth promotions - something that the Ffit rural fitness sessions have relied on.

3. Cover your Costs

Tim and the team had National Lottery funding through Sport Wales to support the start-up of the project alongside investment from Conwy County Borough Council.  They are now however completely self-funding and sustainable.

The secret behind this is simply that they made sure they were covering costs from the off.  Tim explains:

"By offering sessions in 6 weeks blocks and asking for up-front payment we can ensure that costs are covered for the agreed period, regardless of external factors.

"We keep prices as affordable as possible, while ensuring that we can cover venue hire, instructor fees, etc."

4. Address the gaps - Don't compete with other offerings

The Ffit rural project needed to ensure that it did not take numbers away from existing offerings.  This turned out to work in its favour; by working to this brief, Tim and the team focused on providing opportunities to those who were not already taking part - making offerings unique to this group.

They also found that by working with private providers they were able to more adequately fill gaps.

5. Ensure the demand is there and focus efforts where they are most needed

As part of the initial consultations, the Conwy team were able to check that proposals matched the community's needs.  They were also able to identify which groups would benefit most from the offering and concentrate efforts accordingly.

Tim advises:

"We decided to target young females as this is where there was a greater need.  Our promotion was heavily social media based which helped us to reach the group well.  We made sure that our sessions suited this group and considered timings appropriate to them."

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