Radix Big Tent was delighted to welcome Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, the paralympian, crossbench peer and chair of ukactive, last Thursday evening for our first in-person Meet the Leaders, hosted at Shoosmiths’ London offices.
She discussed the importance of physical activity, looking at the central question – Build Back Fitter: How do we ensure the health of the nation is part of the levelling up and regeneration agenda? – with Radix Big Tent Trustee and former MP for Redcar, Anna Turley.
Baroness Grey-Thompson provided her insight from the physical activity sector and noted that one positive to have come out of the pandemic is a much better understanding in government of the impact of the sector. One of the biggest challenges is the funding gap for public leisure amid rising utility costs, and finding solutions for tenants and landlords for unpaid commercial rent. Post-pandemic, the big question for the sector is: what does recovery look like and how do we achieve it?
There are many opportunities for the sector, as well as challenges, Baroness Grey-Thompson said: “What I’m keen to look at is how we change people’s relationship with physical activity, how we get people to think about their own personal health and how we get the nation as a whole to think differently about physical activity.”
The significance of place was also raised in the discussion as both a source of inequality, but also opportunity for the physical activity sector. There are disparities and inequalities geographically, but the sense of belonging and valuing where you are can have a positive impact on motivation for exercise. Having places where you feel safe and comfortable exercising is essential.
Baroness Grey-Thompson suggested that physical activity could play a role in the revitalisation of the high street, creating physical spaces – such as yoga studios and gyms – that contribute economically and to the community’s physical, mental and social health.
These are particularly important considering the cuts to public leisure facilities that many local councils have made – according to ukactive, 400 fitness and leisure facilities were lost during the Covid pandemic, including many leisure centres.
She argued, however, that for this to be achieved the government would need to look again at the measures necessary to stimulate growth for these facilities, including VAT relief, investment in public leisure, addressing rent arrears, and incentivising physical activity through the extension of the Cycle to Work scheme to include more fitness and leisure services and products.
While a lot of discussion about sports focuses on elite athletes and the Olympics, Baroness Grey-Thompson emphasised that we shouldn’t conflate the discussions around major games and increasing broader participation in physical activity. She emphasised the value of conversations about finding ways to make physical activity fun and enjoyable for everyone.
She also noted that it was easier to practice as an elite athlete because it was just something you had to do, whereas finding motivation in everyday life can be a challenge. It is a challenge that is critical for all of us, as we know that increasing physical activity leads to better health outcomes, less pressure on the NHS and overall, a healthier, happier nation.
So, thank you so much to Baroness Grey-Thompson for speaking at our event, to Anna Turley MP for leading the conversation, to Shoosmiths for hosting us at its amazing offices and to all our attendees for their great questions.
One of our attendees ran in his first parkrun over the weekend after being inspired at the event! We look forward to many more inspiring conversations in the future.