Sport and Recreation Alliance: making connections through sport

Young people dancing outside

Lisa Wainwright MBE, CEO of Sport and Recreation Alliance, shares insights on the value of sport and how attending dance classes can help people to feel less alone

Loneliness is by no means a new issue, but it is one that has been exacerbated in recent times as the world continues to wrestle with the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic. People who had never really experienced being alone, like our children and young people, have had to face being cut off from society on numerous occasions, and those who were already isolated have become even more vulnerable. 

Sport and recreation has a vital role to play in the nation’s recovery from the pandemic, not just in terms of improved physical wellbeing, but the positive impact it has on mental wellbeing and helping us overcome societal challenges such as loneliness and isolation. 

Grassroots clubs, projects and initiatives operate at the heart of our communities, and so our sector is perfectly placed to bring all sections of society together at a time when it has never been needed more. This isn’t just the case for participants. Anyone involved in sport and recreation, be that a volunteer, coach or spectator, is likely to experience increased levels of happiness, belonging and morale. 

Our Hidden Diamonds research found that those who volunteer in sport are 10% more likely to have higher self-esteem, emotional wellbeing and resilience compared to those who have never volunteered. 

When the lights were turned off in our sports halls, leisure centres and pitches across the country, it really outlined the value of physical activity and just how much our communities depend on it, and this was backed up by the government prioritising it as one of the first activities to return. 

Personally, I’ve seen just how much sport and recreation means to people. After my dad sadly passed away, my mum was left living on her own and struggled for years to go out and meet people. Just before Christmas she joined a healthy bones class with Age Concern where they meet weekly to improve their bone health, muscle strength and independence. It really is the highlight of her week as she has met so many other people in similar situations and no longer feels like she has to face things on her own.

There are many more examples of sport and recreation positively changing people’s lives, including at Exim Dance Company.  Working predominantly within hard-to-reach communities, the award-winning dance company provides high quality dance wellbeing opportunities to ‘at risk’ people in Plymouth.

Prior to Covid-19, they were delivering 27 weekly sessions across community, professional and educational settings to more than 500 people per week. This brilliant work continued throughout the pandemic, with the charity delivering over 210 live and pre-recorded sessions to almost 460,000 screens.

Following their dance and wellbeing support programmes, 74.6% of participants have noted improved confidence, 83.3% have improved physical health, 86.1% have improved emotional well-being and 60.3% have increased aspirations.

One young person said, “I come to Exim because it is a calm place that I can come to every week, they help me be happy” while another added, “Exim has got me meeting new people. I feel more confident, it is the only place I can express myself freely. It is an escape.”

This remarkable impact extends far beyond young people, with one adult participant commenting on how attending dance classes has helped them to feel less alone. 

“I am hugely grateful for the time Exim invested into me on building my courage and confidence back and for reforming my feeling for a ‘family’ which I had lost from working elsewhere. It’s amazing what a group of people surrounded by like-minded dancers can achieve with mental health and positive wellbeing. Thank you, Exim for allowing me to re-find my soul and smile”

Words that leave us with much hope, optimism and warmth as we begin a new year. 

Lisa Wainwright MBE, CEO of Sport and Recreation Alliance.

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