Community Leisure: A pivot to wellbeing in Greater Manchester

Partners are working together to respond to the challenges of the pandemic, and re-design systems, processes and services to support the people and communities of Greater Manchester through public sector leisure. Discover their journey and learning so far.

Group of young people in a residential area smiling and throwing balls in the direction of the camera


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By GM Moving | 17 January 2022 | TAGS: GM Moving, Leisure, GM Active, Wellbeing, Place based partnerships

The purpose of this blog is to share the journey and learning so far as Greater Manchester partners work together to respond to the challenges of the pandemic, and re-design systems, processes and services to support the people and communities of Greater Manchester through public sector leisure.

This conversation and collective action started in June 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, and it builds on nearly 5 years of collaboration between the community leisure organisations that come together as GM Active.

In the midst of extremely challenging circumstances locally, partners brought an agenda item to the GM Moving Executive Group to surface the individual and collective challenge of each locality and their leisure providers. This was before a leisure recovery fund was secured and operationalised nationally and just before the tiered response to Covid-19 restrictions started to disproportionately impact on different localities at different times.

The GM Moving Executive Group Chair, Steven Pleasant, then took a paper to the GM Local Authority CEOs to surface and highlight the individual and collective challenge and impact, and agree a collective leadership approach to work through and beyond the pandemic.

The recognition and commitment from the Local Authority CEO group was that leaders across the system needed to hold multiple perspectives concurrently, with two key aims:

  • Aim 1: To sustain the public sector leisure infrastructure through the pandemic and beyond.
  • Aim 2: To maximise the future contribution of the leisure providers to the population health picture in Greater Manchester as we seek to Build Back Fairer.

SLC were then commissioned to explore the immediate presenting challenges of the pandemic, in the context of the historic and future challenges; the things that may be inhibiting the contribution of services to Greater Manchester’s physical activity, population health and wider societal needs and ambitions.

A clear programme of work was shaped, with commitment to a collective leadership model across a range of key GM Moving partners (Local Authorities, GM Active, GreaterSport, Sport England, and 10GM).

Over the autumn/winter, SLC explored these questions through workshops, individual engagement sessions with GM layer partners and in the 10 localities. They engaged commissioners, providers, GreaterSport, Sport England, Local Pilot leads, 10GM partners and others.

The SLC team brought their findings back in the form of a report to the Greater Manchester Chief Executives Group. Some key points from the report are set out below:

There is a compelling need for a radical shift in emphasis and focus for future services.

The future vision for ‘leisure’ in GM is to provide a health and wellness service that supports people to move more and engage in physical activity and sport, and to maximise the contribution of public leisure delivery providers and services to the strategic aims for population health in the Greater Manchester Model (as articulated in the 2018 White Paper). This also builds on the learning to date from the Local Pilot.

Image: Community wellness hubs at the heart of their neighbourhood and the local whole system. Click here to view an accessible full screen version of this image.

This is what the future vision for leisure in GM on a neighbourhood basis would look like. Community wellness hubs would be positioned in the heart of their neighbourhoods. It's outward looking. It's working within multiple partnerships. It's using local knowledge, and relationships to make connections within communities. It's playing a direct and enabling role in helping people move more and find their best ways to be active.

Stakeholders across GM share the desire to shift from ‘fitness’ to ‘wellness’, with a long-term aim to support a transition from traditional leisure facilities to community focused wellness hubs, in contrast to a more typical approach as set out below. The community wellness hub above is a future iteration and vision of how leisure can pivot to community wellbeing, engaging meaningfully, developing relationships and networks and providing a broader range of services that support a range of audiences.

This involves a move towards a more responsive, needs based and led service model - delivering wellbeing, healthcare, prehab and rehab services - all underpinned by a much greater emphasis on addressing health inequalities through prevention and early intervention.

The service should be embedded as part of a whole system that supports locality delivery agendas and achieving local strategic outcomes.

Community wellness hubs would be positioned in the heart of their neighbourhoods and play a pivotal role as part of a local whole system.

SLC put forward a short set of recommendations under the two aims identified above and the group agreed to continue with this piece of work in ways that were mindful of the context in which it was taking place, that being:

  • Full lockdown (Jan – March 2021) then gradual reopening of leisure facilities and wider society.
  • Many delivery and management teams with staff on furlough, redeployed into community response or leading in existing roles under extreme pressure.
  • A commitment and need to make progress on these workstreams, despite and because of these challenges.
  • A need to be mindful of demands on individuals; maintaining kindness and compassion in the work together.

A collective leadership model for the pivot work continued, with commissioners, providers, GreaterSport, Sport England, health and VCSE (voluntary, community and social enterprise) partners.

Work began on the workstreams that had been identified, at the same time as SLC continued a deeper exploration with commissioners and providers in some key areas.

Image: Summary diagram outlining the vision and priorities for community leisure in Greater Manchester. Click here to view an accessible full screen version of this image.

Work continues on these priority areas, with notable impact in some key areas.

The value already realised in this work became clearer in November 2021, when Hayley Lever hosted a lunch and sharing session with CEOs from the Active Partnerships network. Andy King (GM Active Chair and Our Trust CEO), Shirley Hurst (GreaterSport), and Justine Blomeley (Sport England) reflected on the learning and value so far. Their reflections are captured below.

Progress, Impact and Change

There has been a noticeable shift in mindsets, language, intent and belief systems across system partners. There is a real and renewed appetite to work collaboratively across the system, share best practice and learn together.

Influence can be seen outside of Greater Manchester as the ‘ripple effect’ of this work is felt, and more people and places are talking about a pivot to wellbeing. Collaborative approaches and open ways of working seem key to this.

Some key tangibles worth noting are:

  • Collaborative approaches and mutual support to navigate the process of financial support from the national recovery fund into Greater Manchester (£6,247,244).
  • Significant support to leisure trusts in localities through the local authority commitment to their services.
  • Covid resilience: All 12 Greater Manchester leisure and culture organisations are operational as we enter the new financial year, despite extremely challenging conditions and the ongoing nature of the pandemic.
  • SLC conducted a second more in depth phase of work, bringing together findings in July 2021. Commissioners and GM Active are now working collaboratively to forward proposals.
  • A Transformational Leadership Programme within GM Active which has been designed and delivered in partnership with the training provider Future Fit Training with John Oxley, with 22 on Cohort 1 and 24 on Cohort 2. Gavin Browne, Head of Active Education at Active Tameside said:
    "I will look to give more responsibility and trust to my team and allow them come up with new ideas to improve service delivery and our impact on the local communities we serve and are part of. Great structure of course with an initial webinar, online learning and then an engaging group session to bounce ideas off other leaders."
  • A group of Public Health Consultants from each of the 10 localities are meeting regularly, facilitated by the Exec Lead for GM Moving, a Director of Public Health and key GMHSCP population health team leads and GM Active to progress the Approaches to Strategic Commissioning priority. There is a sense of shared purpose around different approaches to commissioning, and an appetite to work beyond physical activity across other population health areas through the ICS.
  • MCRactive and other GM Active colleagues have contributed learnings from their Open Data journey so far, which alongside the Moving Communities work with Sport England, will help to shape the next phase of the Open Data journey.
  • Integration and relationship building between VCSE Sector (through 10GM) and GM Active, with shared purpose on integration at neighbourhood and locality levels.
  • There are cultural and relational shifts in the way that people are working together, which are fundamental to the journey. They clearly demonstrate how important the Pointers for Leadership Practice are in this work, and how change happens when we spend time doing real work together and build trust.

This area of work is a key priority within the recently launched GM Moving in Action strategy.

Where next?

As we get into the new year, partners across the system will continue in their strategic and collective leadership on this important agenda. GM Active’s new strategy will shortly be launched, and partners will continue to progress all key work areas. If you would like to follow and engage with this work as it develops, please follow @GMMoving and @GM_Active on social media. Partners will continue to share via the GM Active and GM Moving websites as well.

For more information, you can also email GM Active Chair [email protected] or [email protected].

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