I was out on a run along the River Tees today. It was 10:30am, freezing mist surrounded the river and my 5k to 10k app was telling me I needed to do a steady run for 30 minutes. It’s a very popular running route, in fact it is where one of the fantastic parkrun 5k races is run every Saturday morning, but I only came across one other runner on my route. Unusual maybe, certainly not worth writing a blog about though.
But what did pique my interest was the other activity that I saw on and around the river. Late October, Tuesday morning, half-term, visibility no more than 30 metres, and 23 minutes yet to run. I look to my right and see three rowing crews on the river from the Tees Rowing Club. All being rowed by mature individuals, whom I would say were regulars on the water, judging from their apparent expertise. I thought this was fantastic to see, but I had to go on huffing and puffing my way around the course.
8 minutes to go…I get to the Tees Barrage. Completed in 1995 the barrage was built to control the flow of the river, preventing flooding and the effects of tidal change. More pertinently to my perspective though is the fact that the barrage complex is now home to a world class artificial white water rafting facility, the Tees Barrage Watersports Club and, more recently, a high rope adventure course. I didn’t expect to see any activity out on the water, but I was delighted to find a group of young people enjoying their half-term by going out the boats. Even more so when I turned the corner and saw that the high ropes course was also in full swing.
This scene just reminded me what fantastic facilities I have on my doorstep, and undoubtedly I will be making use of the Tees Barrage International White Water Centre when I get round to trying canoeing/kayaking as one of my Olympic sports.
However, whilst waiting for Mrs W to collect me, in a state of near death following my ill-advised sprint to the line at the end of my run, I began to wonder whether what I had seen in the previous 30 minutes was representative of participation in the north east in general. Are we providing enough opportunities for people to get out and get active? Is there the right number of facilities available? Are people actually that bothered about being “active”? And what the hell does “active” even mean?
In search of the answers to these questions I delved into the national statistics data produced my Sport England to track local authorities, regions and sports partnerships across all manner of key performance indicators. The reading doesn’t make for a happy feeling for those in the north east of England.
The following figures confirm how poorly the north in general looks in terms of sports participation. The area bordered in red is my own area of Tees Valley.
The darker the blue the more people take part in activity at least once a week. Central and southern regions of England look pretty dark blue to me! Also, my working area of Leeds /Bradford does very well in this diagram! Unsurprisingly it’s the extremities of the country that don’t seem to be able to get people active even once a week.
These generalised by region figures also support my argument that the North East needs more help in getting people out and about. Why is this the case?
To be fair, a lot of the facts borne out in the demographics (data gathered in 2015) are ones we already know as a country. In comparison to the country as a whole, the north east region has a higher unemployment rate (7.6% to 5.6%), there is a larger percentage of NEETs (young people not in education, employment or training) (7%), a lower proportion of highly educated people, a lower projected rate of population growth (who wants to live in the north east right??) and a higher percentage of overweight adults (68% to 63.8%) and obese children (21.1% to 19.1%). All of which, and a whole lot more, contributes to figures of 32.2% inactive adults in the north east costing around £2million per 100,000 people in health measures, as opposed to national figures of 27.7% and £1.8 million per 100,000 people.
That kind of outlook must intimidate those people whose responsibility it is to try and improve the health and well-being of those resident in this wonderful region of the country. The question therefore becomes, what can be done and indeed what IS being done?
Well I guess I’m trying to do something about it myself in this blog through inspiring others but it’s all very well inspiring people but if they have nowhere to go (facility) and no-one to help (clubs and coaches) then what’s the point? The tables below do show that there is a range of clubs and facilities available, though not as wide-ranging or substantial as you would find elsewhere in the country.
There are no clubmark clubs for Olympic Sports such as handball or baseball and a real shortage of others such as fencing, archery, orienteering and triathlon. Also, 1 snowsports club despite apparently 15 ski slopes available. I will however point out that the club data was from 2013 and I suspect there will have been positive change by today.
The change makers need to be our local sports partnerships and we have four in the north east; Tyne & Wear Sport, County Durham Sport, Tees Valley Sport and Northumberland Sport. The teams are trying so hard to get the good word of sport out there and presenting opportunities to those that are looking for them. It is definitely worth, if you live in the region, following these guys on Twitter and getting in touch to see what schemes, courses or one-off sessions you can get to. If nothing else, it is a good place to start and I’m certain they can point you in the right direction.
They are certainly helping me, and if there is one aspect in particular I wanted to promote it is the course finder. There are courses available to book all across the north east, all across multiple sports, all different kinds of roles, all the way up to November 2017. The screenshot below just shows an example of what you can find there. Get started with something/anything today! Use the link above.