Meaningfully engaging with local community groups has helped Bury Council understand the success of activities to create sustainable opportunities that support active lives.
Making connections through local initiatives
Bury Council’s new initiative stems from relationships built through the Fit and Fed scheme, which began in 2009 to tackle holiday hunger. ‘It’s an issue that’s hit headline news lately,’ says Lucy Fitzsimon, Local Delivery Pilot and Sports Development Officer at Bury Council. ‘But it’s always been a problem for some of our communities. It particularly affects people who are underrepresented in society, face engagement barriers, and find it more challenging to participate in our initiatives. In Bury, Fit and Fed helped us develop great community engagement opportunities, with different partners involved in supporting families. We could chat to people about activities, health and wellbeing on all levels.’
The initiative gave Lucy the chance to connect with one particular local resident, Kayleigh. Lucy met Kayleigh at a council-led session at Ratcliffe Football Club. ‘Kayleigh explained many families on her estate weren’t aware about the initiatives we ran and how we could help them,’ says Lucy. ‘She wanted to help promote our schemes, so she did leaflet drops, door knocking, and provided a link to community groups. Kayleigh even joined me on visits to the estate, meeting and greeting families directly and getting their feedback about what we could do to help them become more active. It was a real way-in for us to hear what communities had to say.’
Building on assets in challenging times
The links that Bury Council built through community engagement with Kayleigh were excellent. Yet when COVID-19 struck, there was little more they could do through that approach. ‘We’d made really meaningful engagements with communities through the support of local residents,’ says Lucy. ‘There’s no way that could be lost, so we knew we had to make systematic changes to find new ways of engaging with local communities.’
Lucy and her team knew of an initiative known as Play Streets. ‘Play Streets encourages communities to take ownership of shutting their own streets every month or so, legally closing the road to any through traffic,’ explains Lucy. ‘The goal is to let families engage with one another and be physically active outdoors by playing on their street safely. Thanks to our previous engagement with Kayleigh and other local people, we’d learned the local residents genuinely cared about bringing their community together. Therefore, we felt a community-focussed active scheme like Play Streets could be a huge success.’
Lucy knew that individuals in the local community could be key assets and that she should engage with them to support the initiative. ‘I got in touch with Kayleigh, who thought the idea was great and encouraged her street to get involved,’ Lucy says. ‘Kayleigh’s street is full of families with young children. Yet cars often drive in at speed to park up or turn around, so something was needed to stop that and make it a safe place for children to play.’
Involving local residents for long-term success
‘We really wanted the community to be involved in making decisions about their local area, and having ownership of the initiatives within it,’ Lucy explains. ‘Kayleigh engaged with her neighbours, consulted them on the scheme, and got them all on board. So as soon as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, she can apply to get Play Streets in place. I knew Kayleigh’s connections, knowledge and passion for her community could be an asset for the community she lives in.’
Lucy hopes the Play Streets scheme can roll out into other streets in Bury’s delivery pilot area. ‘There are lots of streets connected with one another, but with their own community groups,’ Lucy explains. ‘My aspiration is for different families on different streets to integrate and form bigger communities.’
‘We can even extend that beyond the local pilot area,’ continues Lucy. ‘It’s all about thinking of ways to make physical activity for everyone easier and safer in the communities where they live, from more Play Streets to closing streets around schools and encouraging walking. When we meaningfully engage with our assets in our local communities, we understand their needs better and learn that schemes, like these focussed on family safety, are what truly matter to them.’
Enabling change for active communities
For Lucy and her team, the progress has proven that involving local people and developing assets is crucial to get more families active and engaged, as well as more involved with other programmes, like Fit and Fed. ‘Building on these successes by meaningfully engaging with our local community assets, like Kayleigh, helps create sustainable active opportunities for families’ says Lucy.
The first Play Streets initiative in Bury hopes to go live once COVID-19 restrictions allow.
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