Wow! We’ve come a long way!
Rewind 36 months to January 2019 and ActiveMe 360 was just a month old, it was just me, sat in my home office with hope, fear and excitement as my companion. Looking back to that time now brings on a mix of emotions, from feelings of ‘what was I thinking?’, to those of immense pride in how far we have come as a business, and as a team.
2021 was another year of extraordinary growth for us, not just financially, but in every facet of the business. We saw our full-time team grow from 7 to 18, we onboarded 17 new partner schools, we saw an increase of over 9,000 active days on our holiday camps, and we invested over £15,000 into our communities as part of our social enterprise aims. To cap a great year, in December we received national recognition for our journey so far, being named a finalist in the ‘One to watch’ category for the Social Enterprise UK awards. Sat in the London Guildhall at the awards ceremony was an inspiring and humbling experience, it restored my faith in the greatness that is taking place in our communities every day.
But no success comes without its challenges. Amongst all these amazing achievements, we got things wrong, we made mistakes. But more importantly, we overcame adversities, we learned and improved, we demanded more of ourselves, and at every turn we stayed true to our mission which ensured we delivered to our communities by improving their health and wellbeing. It is this culture that provides the most pride and satisfaction and will provide the foundations of our continued growth and success in 2022.
‘Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.’ – Mother Teresa
With every new year, like every new day, comes new opportunities and new hope. As a person I am never satisfied, I always want to do and achieve more, always looking at ‘what’s next?’ I used to see this as a weakness but over the years I have learnt to embrace it as a positive. For me it’s about enjoying and recognising your successes, using all experiences as a learning opportunity, but not becoming complacent and thinking you have made it. So, 2022 begins with everything reset, we begin again in growing and developing the business, in delivering even higher quality services to our partners and customers, exploring how we can remove more barriers to health and wellbeing, and continue to meet our mission.
I enter 2022 with huge optimism and excitement for the year ahead, as a business we have so many new opportunities, so many exciting developments to come.
We will look to expand and evolve our services, including the launch of a new physically active learning programme in the Spring. (Keep your eyes peeled on our social media channels!)
We will increase our commitment to our communities and social enterprise aims, building on existing partnerships, whilst exploring and establishing new ones.
We will diversify into new products and services to expand our mission, and to reach new demographics.
We will continue to grow and invest in our team, ensuring we provide a sense of purpose and enjoyment to the work we do.
Let’s raise the anchors!
We will always play our part in improving people’s health and wellbeing, we will aspire to do this every day. In the UK there have been some great achievements during 2021 for health and wellbeing, policies that will support our Covid recovery and children in particular, like the renewal of the ‘Primary PE and School Sport Premium’ funding for 2021-22, and the introduction of the ‘Holiday Activities and Food Programme’ (HAF) which supports the most vulnerable children during critical pinch points in the year. But we need to do more.
When we explore a new partnership with a school we engage them in an exercise at our Mission HQ, and for want of a better name we simply call it the ‘Boat Exercise’. We experienced the exercise ourselves 18 months ago when meeting with a potential supplier, and we loved it so much we took it on. The exercise is about identifying an objective of where you want to go, your ‘boat’, then identifying what is great about you that will help you get there (the ‘sails’), and then identifying the problems that are stopping you, the ‘anchors’. The final part is all about looking at the solutions to the problems, and actions needed to raise the anchors and move toward your goal.
With this in mind I started to think about our mission to improve health and wellbeing in the UK, and how it has never been more important than it is now. To ‘pull up the anchors’ and get health and wellbeing in the UK moving forward at a faster pace I identified 3 priorities we, as an industry, should focus our efforts on in 2022.
1. Prioritise children’s health & wellbeing – Prioritise PE, physical activity & school sport
A recent Government (2022) report this month on ‘School Recovery Strategies’ as part of the Covid recovery found that (unsurprisingly) the most common challenges schools faced was pupils emotional and mental health, an increasing gap in attainment and progress, and an increase in complex and variable needs. Yet the same report also found 56% of Primary, and 37% of Secondary schools said they had reduced hours for certain subjects, “particularly PE and music.” How can this be?
There is a wealth of evidence and research that demonstrates the positive impact of physical activity on pupil’s physical, mental and social wellbeing. Indeed the Chief Medical Officer recommends at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, and another Government report (2019) highlights evidence that ‘more active children have more confidence, higher self-esteem, less anxiety and stress and better social skills.’ I am always reminded of the picture below which demonstrates the impact of regular participation in physical activity on a child’s brain. This links to research by Leeds Beckett University on our physically active learning programme, ‘Maths on the Move’, the research highlights the link between physical activity and improvement in pupil’s attainment.
Whilst the continuation of the ‘Primary PE and School Sport Premium’ funding for 2021-22 was welcome news, we must ensure we have a long-term strategy and commitment to funding. Living year to year does not provide the stability or security which will enable real change and impact. But with this must also come more accountability. The funding came in post London 2012, yet the measurement of its impact and holding of schools to account has been negligible at best. Many schools have led and used the funding to create a sustainable legacy, but too many have not.
First, we must join the dots and recognise the crucial role PE, physical activity and school sport plays. Then, we must put in place a long-term strategy with measurable outcomes, measure these, and then hold every stakeholder to account.
2. Remove barriers in our communities, don’t put more up.
The impact of Covid around the world has been seismic, in the UK alone we have an incredible NHS on its knees with a long road ahead. Add this to the ever growing obesity epidemic in the UK, estimated to cost the NHS £6.1 billion annually, and the wider UK society £27 billion annually, and we have a cocktail for an impending disaster. Like with climate change, we have the easy choice to ‘kick the can down the road’, or face it head on, now, so future generations do not bear the burden.
Communities are the heartbeat of health and wellbeing, yet rather than embrace this and really empower them to be the change makers, they continually have more barriers erected. A difficult conversation within this that needs to happen is around how often this affects our most vulnerable communities.
An example of this is in a community in which we work, St. Mary’s in Southampton. The city council recently decided to close down St. Mary’s Leisure Centre, a centre that has been long standing in the community and one that provides a vital hub for health and wellbeing to one of the cities most deprived areas. You only need to look at how the community has come together to fight the closure to understand its importance, and its necessity. Surely in a time like this we need to increase access to community facilities? No doubt the council has its reasons for their decision, but when we see so much waste in national and local Government spending – surely, we can find a solution.
This example is one of many, whether it be the closure of local facilities, the reduction in safe green spaces and parks, or the removal of funding for community groups who support local health and wellbeing. We need to make physical activity, sport and wellbeing activities more accessible, not less, and empower communities to lead the change.
3. Collaboration. Collaboration!
The only way real change is achieved is when people and organisations come together and sing from the same hymn sheet. If we wanted an example of this, we only need to look at how the country came together in a time of national crisis during the Covid-19 pandemic. We prioritised what was important, made sacrifices and came together as a nation.
Collaboration works. No one person or organisation can solve problems and create change alone. ActiveMe 360 are part of a national network of other providers, brought together by Aspire Active Partnerships, working together to share best practise, develop and improve, diversify and speak with one voice.
Before Christmas, through the strength of the network we were part of discussions led by Sport England to input on the new national coaching framework. The new framework is based on collaboration by including all invested stakeholders, it is a clear acknowledgement of the role education and coaching companies have to play in the strategy.
The recent HAF programme, now extended for a further 3 years, demonstrates how local authorities can successfully work with local organisations and community groups to support vulnerable children and families with their health and wellbeing. In 2021, working with the ‘Connect4Communities’ team at Hampshire County Council and Southampton City Council we supported over 5,000 children through the programme, and to increase impact we use reinvested profits to run our own programme during holiday periods where HAF doesn’t run.
2022 will see a new partnership between ActiveMe 360 and Energise Me. With our missions aligned we will support them as a stakeholder in the delivery of The Agency in Southampton, an exceptional social impact programme, which empowers young people to create the change that they want to see in their communities. Our aim is to invest in and support the programme by providing training, mentoring and funding support to young people, increasing their opportunities and helping to provide a sustainable legacy for the future.
These are just a few examples of how collaboration drives change and innovation. We all have the same mission and motivation, if coaching organisations, national governing bodies, government, local authorities and community stakeholders work together we will achieve more.
Does your mission align to ours? Do you want to be part of the change? If so, get in touch by sending a direct message, or emailing [email protected] – let’s work together.