March 23rd 2020, the day that a virus that started on the other side of the world suddenly became very real here at home. It was the day the Prime Minister addressed the nation to announce the first national lockdown.
As a small business owner, a business just over a year into its journey, it was going into the unknown with no certainty on how the business would look in 3, 6 or 12 months, or whether there would be one. Despite this, like many others, myself and fellow ActiveMe 360 Directors Joe and Chris held a Zoom meeting with one question, ‘what can we do to support the communities we work with?’.
As a social enterprise, we are driven by our mission and the communities we work in. We are always thinking about how we can support them, especially the most vulnerable. From day one, despite our own inner fears, we were only focused on the future, we were positive and resilient that we would come through it stronger. This belief made being able to focus on that key question much easier.
Over the weeks that followed we continued to speak with our partners to put support strategies in place as Covid-19 really took hold of the country. Its negative impact on our communities, especially the health and wellbeing of children as we have seen first-hand on our key worker and vulnerable childcare provisions, became more apparent.
Fast forward to today and we can see those fears come true in recent research:
- Over half of children said lockdown “made their life harder” (NHS Digital Survey, 2020).
- Almost 1/3 children were classed as inactive as a result of lockdown restrictions (Sport England, 2021).
- 35% of young people said they feel lonely often or most of the time (Mental Health Foundation, 2021).
Our main support strategy during the first lockdown to run a key worker and vulnerable childcare programme during the school holidays was our priority, and it was here during the May half-term that ‘Operation Active Hampshire’ was born.
One of our main aims as a company is to remove barriers, we knew that to tackle the problem of children’s declining health and wellbeing we needed to make the programme as accessible and inclusive as possible. We also knew that when any business, school or person makes a decision the first consideration, and usually the first barrier, is the cost.
We launched ‘Operation Active Hampshire’ in Summer 2020 for the 2020/21 academic year with ambitious goals. As a social enterprise with a commitment to reinvesting 50% of our profits back into the communities we work in, we exist to benefit them and add social value. With this in mind, we committed funding to directly support schools and target children’s health and wellbeing through PE and school sport.
We wanted to engage and support new schools, inspire more children, and establish new partnerships to expand our mission. But we were determined not to forget those schools/children we already engaged, and who had stood by us during the lockdowns. Therefore, for existing schools we offered 12 weeks of free PE and sport to boost their provision.
After a year of the programme we were so proud of its impact and success across the county, but we also very quickly realised the road to recovery for our children was going to be a long one, a one year initiative was great but it was no where near enough. With this in mind, and with the confidence of the continued growth and development of the business, we made a decision to relaunch the programme, redefine our goals and make it part of a longer-term strategy to support and improve children’s health and wellbeing.
Operation Active Hampshire is now committed to 2025, aiming to provide over 10,000 hours of funded PE and sport provision, and engage over 25,000 children. It’s ambitious, and we know it’s a huge challenge and commitment of funding, but it’s projects like this that drives us. It’s why I wanted to start a social enterprise, it’s why we exist, and I’m proud that our Team has already delivered over 1,500 hours across 18 schools.
Some may say, ‘you won’t change anything working with children for just 12 weeks’, maybe not for all children, but it only takes one or two from every class to start that generational change. This is our main aim of the initiative, to make PE, sport, simply being active, ‘FUN’, something people WANT to do. To support schools and give them the tools to achieve more, to continue this mission in a sustainable way.
I love sport because I loved PE and sport at school, I had inspirational teachers who fuelled this in me. My parents and family loved sport and encouraged an active lifestyle, it became a habit and a huge part of my life. It’s now my business, my passion. I have a two year old daughter who I hope will love being active, love sport, love PE as much as I do, I want to inspire her, and then watch her inspire children in the future. This is how change happens, and it only takes one.