Suffolk: Spike in sports participation levels revealed as county stars shine at Commonwealth Games
PUBLISHED: 14:43 28 July 2014 | UPDATED: 14:43 28 July 2014
Suffolk is the only county in the region to have seen a significant increase in the number of people playing sport every week over the last eight years, a survey has revealed.
Sporting chiefs praised the innovative work taking place “behind the scenes” in harnessing the impact of the London Olympics and other major events – including the current Commonwealth Games – to drive up sporting participation levels.
It comes after Bury St Edmunds swimmer Chris Walker-Hebborn blew away the rest of the field to claim 100m backstroke gold at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow on Friday.
A snapshot of people’s sporting hobbies, published in Sport England’s Active People Survey 2014, found 33.8% of Suffolk’s residents took part in a 30-minute sporting activity at least once every week between April 2013 and April 2014.
When the survey was first carried out between October 2005 and October 2006, it was 31.8%. The 2% rise was the only “statistically significant increase” seen in the east of England in the eight-year period.
Areas including Mid Suffolk, St Edmundsbury and Suffolk Coastal are performing particularly well, with Ipswich and Waveney having the lowest participation levels.
Ben Jackson, sports development officer at Suffolk Sport, said: “This survey is about sport participation, and not overall physical activity, and so is a narrow measure as it does not include things like walking and gardening.
“But the overall picture is looking very good. The basic measure suggests more people are taking up sport, especially 16-plus.
“With mass participation events, the Commonwealth Games, and the recent successes of the World Cup and the London Olympics, there have been massive showcases to maximise all sports locally.”
He added: “There is a lot more insight work being done to understand the behaviours and attitudes towards sport, and what people actually want to get out of it.”
He said running and cycling were two “massive growth sports” in Suffolk, saying their accessibility and flexibility made them attractive hobbies.
Mike Havard, who has been a member of the Suffolk branch of the Cycling Touring Club for almost 50 years, said the recent successes of British athletes – such as Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome – in the Tour de France and London Olympics has helped cycling become much more fashionable.
“It has snowballed,” he said. “There are more younger people on their bikes now. Not teenagers like there used to be, but people in their 20s and 30s.”
Colleen Fuller, membership secretary of the Ipswich Harriers, which trains twice a week at Northgate Sports Centre, said: “We increased the membership to 250, from 200, last year because the waiting list went up to 90 – the highest it has ever been.
“We saw an increase in the number of people applying the year before the London Olympics. We will probably get more enquiries after the Commonwealth Games. It’s brilliant to see.”
TJ Haworth-Culf, Suffolk Coastal’s cabinet member with responsibility for leisure, said they were committed to improving the health and wellbeing of residents. “As well as questionnaires, a series of drop-in sessions and focus groups have been staged to identify the grassroots needs of communities,” she said.
Bryony Rudkin, culture and leisure portfolio-holder at Ipswich Borough Council, said the London Olympics legacy is “truly felt” in the town.
She said: “We have won £238,000 National Lottery funding from Sport England to increase fitness levels at a community level. These sessions will have an emphasis on fun and will provide opportunities for people to find new friends as well as helping them to feel healthy.
“Entries for the Larking Gowen Ipswich Half Marathon have already reached last year’s level with two months to go.
“SkyRide attracts a huge following – we have another traffic-free town centre cycle ride on August 31 as part of the Ipswich Cycling Weekend.
“We also supply free tennis in the park and have a range of good-value gyms.”
Warren Smyth, chief executive of Abbeycroft Leisure, which manages leisure centres in St Edmundsbury with the borough council, credited the recent women’s cycling tour and the Queen’s Baton Relay for driving up participation levels.
A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said the findings “contributed heavily” to the authority’s ambition of becoming England’s most active county.
JAFFA Running Club
One of the success stories in Suffolk has been the growth of Ipswich JAFFA Running Club.
It has seen a steady rise in membership in recent years, and there are now more than 300 runners of all abilities at the club.
The junior section is growing particularly quickly and now has a waiting list.
Club chair Kate Wooldridge said: “JAFFA stands for ‘Jogging and Fitness For All’ and we are very proud of the ‘for all’ philosophy.
“We are not elitist, despite having a number of elite level runners, and we work hard to ensure all members feel part of the Jaffa ‘family’.
“Over the years we have encouraged people into the sport of running, and supported them in whatever their ambitions are – to complete their first 5k or train for a full marathon. We all support each other and there is a real feel of camaraderie amongst all our members.”
Kate, who was recently asked to join the England Athletics advisory board looking at ways of increasing participation in athletics at all levels nationwide, added: “I am so proud of the team we have and the high level of coaching that is provided, both at junior and senior level.”
n The club’s next 10-week beginners course will start on Monday, September 8, with registration from 6pm at Northgate Sports Centre in Ipswich, ready for a 6.30pm start. Runners of all abilities are welcome.
Olympic Legacy in Essex
In Essex, 35.7% of people take part in a sport every week according to the Active People Survey.
Tendring has the lowest at 31%, while the highest was 37.5% in Chelmsford.
Jason Fergus, head of Active Essex, a county sport partnership working to increase participation levels, said there was a “huge amount of work going on behind the scenes” which may not have been reflected in the survey. He said: “If you dig even further there are loads of good nuggets of stuff going on.
“We are seeing the legacy of the London Olympics at the Hadleigh Farm Olympic mountain bike course, which we are increasing by 15km for everyday bikers to use and which will open next year.
“The Olympics and Paralympics have had a significant impact, and we are continuing to stage big events. The Tour de France was on our doorstep and the Commonwealth Games are going on. People are seeing that we can stage world-class, elite events.”
He added: “Sports are different for different people and need to be adapted to fit their needs, and we want to drive up the participation levels even more.”