The launch of Include Me West Midlands (IMWM) – a pioneering pledge to deliver more inclusive physical activity - heard from key national figures in the field that the region is the ideal place to lead the way on this work.
West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) is spearheading the scheme, which focuses on listening to and understanding the needs of disabled people, in partnership with Sport England and Activity Alliance.
At the heart of the campaign is an Include Me WM Pledge - a commitment to improving the understanding of the barriers that all our residents face.
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street launches Include Me West Midlands with Mark Fosbrook, Activity Alliance.
WMCA strategic lead for physical activity, Simon Hall, said the combined authority is willing to listen, learn and make changes. The first four organisations to sign the pledge were announced at the launch at Tipton Sports Academy in Sandwell, including Sandwell MBC, Inspire Activity, Sandwell Leisure Trust and Midland Mencap.
Sport England is contributing £150,000 towards the overall £179,000 cost of Include Me WM, launched at Tipton Sports Academy in Sandwell. Its strategic lead for disability Adam Blaze told the launch the West Midlands was absolutely the right place to lead the campaign.
He said: “If we are going to make a change to disabled people’s lives and how they can access sport, we absolutely have to go away from here today and build on the great work that you are already doing.
“If there’s anywhere we can get it right it is here - we can absolutely lead the way in creating a change and we have got to get on with it.
“We can’t let the momentum drift away. We have to create a movement in this region so people start to look at us as leading the way.
“We have to do a better job of listening to what you need and you have to keep telling us – for example that co-design and co-production is probably the most important thing.
“I believe there are now people here who are going to listen.”
The campaign follows up on an ambition in West Midlands Mayor Andy Street’s Renewal Plan to make the region a centre of excellence for disabled sport.
The Include Me Report sets out the challenges and ambitions which have been developed following extensive consultation.
This is rooted in the WMCA’s inclusive economic growth priorities and links to its West Midlands on the Move Strategic Framework, published in 2017, which aims to make physical activity and active citizenship the norm.
Include Me WM builds on that, taking up the challenge to make the West Midlands an exemplar region in its number of active citizens.
The Mayor said: “We know that nearly 50% of disabled people across the West Midlands are inactive.
“We are looking to reduce this by launching Include Me West Midlands - looking for as many organisations as possible to sign up to our pledge to demonstrate their commitment to improving how they engage with disabled people.
“They will also open their doors to the thoughts and ideas of disabled people and look to improve with the help of disabled people. Include Me West Midlands will also look to address some of the wider issues that prevent disabled people from even seeing physical activity as an option.”
Activity Alliance is a national charity established in 1998 to bring organisations and disabled people together to make active lives possible, with a vision that ‘disabled people are active for life’.
Collectively, they continue to challenge perceptions and change the reality of disability, inclusion and sport.
Activity Alliance Chief executive Barry Horne said: “We are delighted to support Include Me West Midlands, which will put disabled people at the heart of activity planning, opportunities and campaigns in the region.
“As a partner, we are proud to be included in this new ground-breaking programme that looks to change the landscape and increase the numbers of active disabled people. It is also fantastic to see our Ten Principles rooted within the pledge. Mark, who will lead the programme also works within our engagement team, so is able to share a wealth of knowledge and resources.
“There are so many great people in the West Midlands, who are working tirelessly to champion disabled people in sport and activity. Through this programme, others will be able to learn and share, helping us all to challenge perceptions and change the reality of disability, inclusion and sport. I have no doubt that organisations across the region will show their commitment to Include Me West Midlands.”
Mark Fosbrook, seconded from Activity Alliance to WMCA to advise on engagement, said: "As a national organisation looking to do something different, why would you not want to come to the West Midlands?
"We have every type of demographic and every type of locality here you could ever want – we've got everything, so why not come to the West Midlands and help us show to the rest of the world that things can be done differently
The combined authority plans to raise awareness and make changes in access to sport, leisure and transport, training those in health and social care as well as sport and physical activity and establishing an Include Me West Midlands Network with disabled citizens at its centre.
WMCA physical activity champion Cllr Kamran Caan led a working group, whose report sets out 10 West Midlands priorities, not just for sport but also wider issues that impact on disabled citizens’ lives.
He said: “Above all the report pushes for a more inclusive approach in how we approach sport design and delivery and how people of the West Midlands live, work and play together.”
Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson, former Paralympian and chair of ukactive, was on the working group.
She said: “Disabled people can face a vast number of psychological, logistical and physical barriers to getting active. This is not just about the accessibility of a local leisure centre, but as much about a well-trained and inclusive workforce, better transport options, access to services, and inclusive messaging and imagery.
“The work of the West Midland’s Mayor resonates strongly with the “Everyone Can” programme: an initiative by ukactive and Sport England designed to change perceptions around disabled people’s participation in physical activity and support the sector to become more inclusive.”
Sport England CEO Tim Hollingsworth recently called for the sport and physical activity sector to rethink the way it addresses the challenge to get people from all backgrounds more physically active.
Mike Diaper, Sport England's executive director for children and young people, tackling inactivity, said: “Getting active can have massive health and other benefits for disabled people and yet disabled people are twice as likely to be inactive when compared to the rest of the population.
"Sport England is determined to turn this picture around by listening to, understanding and acting on what disabled people tell us.
"We are helping the sector provide sport and physical activity in a way that is accessible, practical and most importantly fun. We are delighted to be working with uk active and the West Midlands Combined Authority using National Lottery funding to pioneer change.”