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Active service

Rob Holt, Planning Manager, Sport England, explains about an innovative approach to urban planning that aims to literally build exercise into people?s daily lives

Chiswick Park aims to get as many people as possible involved in a wide range of recreational events

Sports policy is perhaps not an area you would immediately associate with innovation. However, in a world where sporting facilities are competing for space with more lucrative property developments, Sport England is taking steps to address the need to pioneer innovative solutions to provide people with places to do exercise. With the clock ticking to London 2012, the importance of getting people active is as great as ever and now we have a real inspiration to drive our work forward.

Our most recent innovation is Active Design, a fresh approach to urban planning produced by Sport England to help get local communities active and more involved in sport. The guidelines of Active Design provide advice to town planners, architects and urban designers on how to build sport and active recreation into people?s everyday lives.

Sport England is the organisation charged with getting people doing more sport and we recognise that the quality and structure of local environments is key to getting people moving. It?s no wonder that people regularly site ?the outdoor lifestyle? of countries like as Australia as one of the chief reasons behind their enthusiasm for sport.

Planning to be active

Active Design is Sport England?s response to the challenge of impressing on planners and architects the importance of considering open space in new developments. In practice, Active Design provides easy-to-use guidance and information on how to put sport and opportunities to get active at the heart of new housing and community developments, both public and private.

The Active Design guidance provides expert advice in three key areas, namely improving accessibility, enhancing amenities and increasing awareness:

Chiswick Park is based around the theory that the more people enjoy work, the better they work

Each section poses a series of questions, ranging from strategic planning questions ? such as whether a children?s play space is effectively integrated into streets and spaces in accordance with best practice ? to detailed questions about on-going maintenance. These questions act as a checklist for designs at draft stage or as a design critic for drawn up schemes. Active Design is complemented by a number of case studies and good practise examples that illustrate the Active Design criteria.

In practice, this only skims the surface of what Active Design is about. The guidance goes into much greater depth so that it can be of real use to people like town planners and architects when they approach a new building project. The challenge for Sport England over the coming months and years is to try and get local authorities and those involved in building new community developments to use it to recognise the importance of sport in creating healthier communities. London 2012 gives us a greater incentive to succeed and will help us to get more partners on board.

How active are we?

The need to get people active is clear. Sport England commissioned Ipsos MORI to undertake the Active People survey last year, the largest ever nationwide poll into England?s sporting habits. More than 360,000 people were interviewed to identify rates of participation in sport and recreation. The survey found that:

The survey highlighted that many of those who had not taken part in sport or active recreation are likely to want to participate but face barriers that make it difficult. Active Design addresses these barriers and makes it easier for people to be active without having to disrupt their daily routine.

Building exercise into the working day

Active Design was launched at the end of March 2007 and we are confident that it will be used by developers and architects alike. A good example of where the principles of Active Design are already being put to good use is Chiswick Park, an award winning office park based around the theory that the more people enjoy work, the better they work. At Chiswick Park, architects created a unique working environment where employees can take part in physical activity without leaving the campus. In fact Chiswick Park goes even further and encourages employees to get involved in a wide range of recreational events which are organised by the ?Enjoy-Work? support team, who are dedicated to promoting a healthy worklife balance for its workforce.

A mix of office and retail spaces and a gym are set around an attractive, open communal landscape. Chiswick Park even employs a sports coach to deliver a series of free sports programmes open to employees. Activities include a football tournament, basketball, volleyball, netball, golf nets and more. Other innovations include making bicycles freely available. This has already proved a very popular scheme and they are used daily for shopping trips or cycling home. Sport England believes that being active should be an intrinsic part of people?s everyday lives and Chiswick Park is an excellent example of how this can be transferred to the workplace.

Building a healthier lifestyle into the places in which we live and work and making sporting activities accessible is more likely to influence the nation?s health than any of the fads touted in the media. Health practitioners therefore need to make sure their local planning department has a copy of Active Design. They also need a copy themselves to use when negotiating a better deal for health facilities and healthy environments through the planning process.

More than anything else, we don?t want Active Design to sit in a drawer and gather dust. If developers are serious about improving the quality of life of their residents, they need to pay attention to this important guidance.


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