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£5.5 million plan to get local people more active as part of Commonwealth Games legacy

Published: Wednesday 26 Jul 2023

A 10-year plan to level up access to sport and physical activity across the West Midlands to help improve residents' physical and mental health has been launched by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and Sport England.

As part of a new partnership, announced to mark the first anniversary of the Commonwealth Games, the WMCA and Sport England will work closer than ever before to make it easier for people from all parts of society to walk, cycle and take part in exercise and play sport more frequently.

They will identify and work with groups in the West Midlands who are least active in support of the shared goal of reducing the health inequalities that exist across the region – and highlighted in the WMCA’s Health of the Region report and the recently published West Midlands Mental Health Commission report.

The West Midlands has some of the highest levels of physical inactivity in England – with one third of children and over half of adults doing less than the recommended 30 minutes of daily physical activity.

The partnership was announced in Birmingham today, Wednesday 26 July, by Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands and WMCA chair, and Chris Boardman, Sport England chair, accompanied by Haniyah Kousar, the UK’s first female Muslim wrestling coach who is based at Impact Fitness Academy in Tyseley.

It will be backed by an initial £5.5 million of joint funding from the WMCA’s Commonwealth Games Legacy Enhancement Fund and National Lottery funding administered by Sport England.

Chris Boardman, Sport England chair, and Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), sign the Memorandum of Understanding at Impact Fitness Academy in Tyseley, Birmingham.

Chris Boardman, Sport England chair, and Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), sign the Memorandum of Understanding at Impact Fitness Academy in Tyseley, Birmingham.

The partnership will:

  • Continue the Commonwealth Active Communities project which works with grassroots groups in Birmingham, Black Country, Coventry, and Solihull to provide a wide range of opportunities to help people get active in their local streets and parks
  • Provide grant funding for community-led projects to increase participation in sports and physical activity as a driver of better health and wellbeing
  • Fund a pilot scheme to integrate physical activity and sport into mental health care pathways for children and young people - one of the recommendations in the recently published West Midlands Mental Health Commission report
  • Extend and expand the Gen 22 trailblazer legacy project to get more disabled and LGBTQ+ young people involved in sport volunteering
  • Support voluntary sport organisations with business and financial planning, governance, staff development and inclusion and accessibility

The Mayor said: “We know from work undertaken by the West Midlands Combined Authority - including the Health of the Region report and Mental Health Commission - that there are unfortunately barriers that too many local people face when it comes to taking part in sport and physical activity.

“I’m determined to address these health inequalities and this partnership with Sport England will help us in that vital effort.

“Our Legacy Enhancement Fund - combined with additional investment from Sport England - will ensure we maximise the post Games momentum to deliver tangible benefit for local people right across our region including those from some of our most deprived communities.”

Chris Boardman, chair of Sport England, said: “Being active can change lives both physically and mentally and it’s important that we continue to support people in the grassroots to be active and make a difference for themselves and their communities.

“Sport England’s Uniting the Movement strategy aims to provide opportunities for all people to access sport and physical activity, regardless of their backgrounds, bank balance or postcodes, but we know that barriers for some can often be tougher to break down than others.

“This 10-year partnership will make a vital difference for people in the West Midlands, following our substantial investment into the West Midlands and Commonwealth Games last year. I’m proud to see it help people get moving and reap the benefits that being active can have for them.”

The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding took place at Impact Fitness Academy in Tyseley, which runs combat sports such as freestyle wrestling and boxing, with 130 registered participants. It received equipment from the Commonwealth Games Equipment Giveaway and a £10,000 B2022 Places and Spaces grant to enhance the gym space to be safer and more inclusive.

Haniyha Kousar was introduced to martial arts and Impact Fitness Academy by her elder brothers, and having taken a particular interest in wrestling she now runs female-only wrestling classes at Impact Fitness Academy to help encourage more Muslim women to get active and open pathways for them into the sport.

She said: “As a Muslim woman I have noticed the barriers that we face in terms of both religion and culture. Even just with wrestling there are lots of things holding us back, such as clothing not catering to Muslims, with restrictions on covering, and the majority of classes being mixed, even for adults. So at Impact we’ve worked hard to create a space to allow women and girls to get into wrestling, even if just to keep fit and have fun. A space for females only to feel comfortable.

Haniyah Kousar, the UK’s first female Muslim wrestling coach who is based at Impact Fitness Academy in Tyseley.

Haniyah Kousar, the UK’s first female Muslim wrestling coach who is based at Impact Fitness Academy in Tyseley.

“The Commonwealth Games were an amazing experience. It was nice for it to be so close to home because I had the opportunity to be involved by helping to run a have-a-go event which gave 2,000 children and adults a taste of wrestling.

“Seeing the Games and watching people from our cultures winning showed us that we can achieve such things. The most inspiring part for me was seeing one of the referees for the games was a hijabi from Egypt. Seeing someone of my background reaching such a high level and performing so well in front of millions was so surreal and gave me the hope of doing the same for others.”

The Mayor, Chris Boardman and colleagues also visited Farm Park in Sparkbrook to watch a 3x3 basketball tournament organised by Concord Youth Centre, Basketball England and Sport Birmingham.

The tournament was co-designed by Concord Youth Centre (BBC) and Basketball England and connected through the support of Commonwealth Active Communities.

Orlan Jackman, Basketball England Legacy lead, and Myles Hesson, who were both Team England basketball gold medallists at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games, joined the event.

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, the WMCA’s portfolio lead for wellbeing, and leader of Warwickshire County Council, said: “It’s really good news that thanks to the Commonwealth Games Legacy Enhancement Fund we are able to make a significant investment to take action to tackle the high levels of inactivity by both adults and children.

“The benefits of being more active for our physical and mental health and wellbeing are clear, so I’m delighted that coupled with the funding we’ll be working more closely with Sport England to align our priorities in this area with their expertise to make it easier for people from all communities to be more active.”

The WMCA’s Commonwealth Games Legacy Enhancement Fund has been established because of the effective organisation and delivery of the Games last summer which meant the event came in under budget.

Following discussions with the Mayor and the WMCA, the UK Government agreed to invest the £70 million underspend back into the region to enhance the legacy of the Games and ensure the benefits continue their positive impact for years to come.

Enquiries about the Fund should be emailed to legacyfund@wmca.org.uk.

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