Twelve areas across England will take part in a groundbreaking pilot to reach physically inactive communities.
The public body Sport England will allocate £100m in National Lottery funding over four years in an effort to transform the way sport and activity is offered – rallying local organisations and using what it described as “an intense focus” on barriers to activity.
Research from the body's Active Lives Survey showed a quarter of the general population are inactive, meaning they do less than 30 minutes of exercise that gets them slightly out of breath each week.
The project aims to reach those on low incomes, women, older adults, people from certain ethnic groups and those with disabilities – groups proven to be less active.
By developing collaborations between voluntary groups, social enterprises, local authorities, faith organisations, schools, GPs and parenting groups, it aims to break down barriers such as poor transport, safety, cost and confidence.
“In this part of the country a monthly membership to the gym or swimming starts from £14.99 but people won’t pay that if they can’t put food on the table,” said Cheryl Dixon, a 34-year-old community worker from North Ormesby, Middlesbrough – one of the areas selected for funding.
“We’ve still got the same system we’ve had for the last 15 to 20 years but now the system doesn’t fit society.
“If we’re going to make an impact and a sustainable future for the children we’ve got to look at the problem from every angle we can.”
Dixon, who works at her community hub and won the British Empire Medal for voluntary services, described the funding as “massive” because it reaches smaller organisations directly.
“By combining the work I do with the families in the community hub, and the council, and the sports sessions with Sport England, we’re going to hit every angle and we’re going to see real sustainable change.
“By getting families active and outside we’re going to reduce the mental health problems of isolation and depression.”
Minister for sport Tracey Crouch said: "Sport is a powerful tool that helps strengthen communities and improves physical and mental health, so it is right we look to do all we can to encourage people to take part.
“We'll look to replicate and scale up learning from the pilots across the country."
Sport England CEO Jennie Price added: “On our assessment visits to choose the pilot places I was reminded that the barriers to getting active might have little to do with the activity itself, yet this is where we often start.
“Working with all of the partners in a local area means for the first time we can think about that broader range of issues and work right across the local system to address them.”
The 12 places selected by Sport England partners, including Public Health England, are:
1. Birmingham and Solihull
6. Greater Exeter
7. Greater Manchester
9. Pennine Lancashire
10. Redcar & Cleveland and Middlesbrough