Room for improvement

The latest NBS findings show that leisure centres are doing some great work, but must do more to engage priority groups, says Lisa Forsyth, director of Max Associates.

SIMON Shibli from Sheffield Hallam University recently presented an annual review of Sport England’s National Benchmarking Service (NBS) at the Quest and NBS conference, which highlighted some interesting findings. The 2017 review included 28,741 surveys

of people using leisure centres and evaluated the types of people who access centres. Overall, ethnic minorities, females and 26 to 64 year olds were over-represented compared to the demographic profile of the leisure centres’ catchments. However, the lowest socio-economic

populations, those over 65 years old, disabled people and youngsters aged between 14 and 25 years old were under- represented; lower socio-economic groups were the worst represented (at less than 0.5

where 1 is representative). The higher representation of ethnic minorities

and females is very positive and contradicts the results of the latest Active Lives survey, which finds that just 60 per cent of females compared to 64 per cent of males complete the recommended 150 active minutes a week, while white British and white other ethnic groups have higher participation rates than Black, Chinese and other ethnic groups. The NBS shows that leisure centres are

bucking the trend and providing facilities and activities at prices that are encouraging women, ethnic minorities, and 26 to 64 year olds to get active. However, the NBS data for those in the

lowest socio-economic groups also mirrors findings in the Active Lives survey, which is less encouraging. The Active Lives findings suggest that only 49 per cent of the lowest economic group (NS-SEC 8) are active (that is they achieved 150 or more active minutes a week) compared to 71 per cent of the top economic group (NS-SEC 1-2). This pattern is the same for people with a disability (only 37 per cent of disabled people who have three or more impairments are active) and older people (only 37 per cent of people between the age of 75-84 years old are active). More positively, the Active Lives survey

showed that 75 per cent of youngsters aged 16- 24 years old are active. So, whilst the programmes and facilities in

leisure centres are attracting ethnic minorities and women, centres are still struggling to engage those on lower incomes, people with disabilities and older people. And this is at a time where the population is getting older and the health inequalities of those on lower incomes is well documented. Whilst the majority of local authority leisure

centres have price concession schemes in place, and any change to these schemes can be highly contentious, data shows that they are simply not enough to attract these hard to reach groups. Price is commonly cited as a barrier to physical activity, but it’s not the only solution. Other factors must come into play if leisure centres are to attract the wider population. Local authorities and operators have to ask

the harder questions about why these groups are not taking part, be it time, motivation, the type of activities and programmes on offer or having the confidence to take part. Max Associates

Sport and leisure consultants Max Associates are part of the consortium commissioned by Sport England to deliver the Sport England National Benchmarking Service. 19

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