Written evidence submitted by Croydon Council

 

 

Written evidence submitted by David White, Sport & Physical Activity Lead, Croydon Council.

 

 

Introduction

 

Sport & Physical Activity (SPA) is part of an integrated Active Lifestyles department within Croydon Council which also provides the boroughs Leisure and Parks services. The Sport & Physical Activity function of Active Lifestyles aims to bring borough-wide direction on matters regarding sport, physical activity and health improvement in Croydon with the overall aim of increasing participation levels, whilst reducing numerous health inequalities.

 

Overview

The council deliver a number of in-house sport and physical activity programmes. Covid-19 had an immediate operational impact and resulted in events and programmes either being rescheduled or cancelled. The halt to deliver has enabled us to repurpose additional support to community organisations providing a more collaborative relationship with our partners.

Active Lifestyles has worked to co-ordinate its response to Covid-19 by aligning and coordinating support available through Sport England and its subsidiary organisations. The SPA team have maintained regular dialogue with over 250 borough SPA providers through a series of Coronavirus Support Bulletins focussing on:

As of 22nd May 2020 Croydon clubs had secured £124k of Sport England Community Emergency Funding with 19 out of 34 applicants successfully receiving grants, at the time it was the highest number of successful awards across London.

Through its social media channels SPA have endorsed the #StayInWorkOut campaign promoted by Sport England and the stay at home challenges promoted by London Youth Games with the aim of keeping residents active.

This submission will focus on the impact of Covid-19 on the SPA sector in the London Borough of Croydon. The report represents the collective voice of SPA providers ranging from personal fitness instructors, community sport clubs to high profile charities all of whom make up two key strategic groups:

 

Information represented in this report is collated from the following.

  1. SPA Provider Roundtable discussing the immediate impact of Covid-19 on Tuesday 16th June 2020.
  2. Examples of live casework since April 2020.

 

 

What has been the immediate impact of Covid-19 on the sector?

 

Covid-19 has affected SPA providers in different ways according to individual circumstances. There are some common trends in how SPA providers adapted to lockdown conditions.

From March 2020 regular programmes, events, competitions and other activities have been rescheduled or cancelled removing opportunities for people to be active.

Providers moved activities and engagement online under lockdown and largely reported success. Most clubs access social media for maintaining engagement with service users. Clubs that deliver individual sports such as athletics were able to engage in virtual competitions and ‘Pad Chat’ to support youth mentoring.

Online engagement proved more challenging for projects that support demographic groups who are typically under-represented in SPA. Potential barriers to participation included internet access, suitable space, equipment and digital skills. Disability focussed groups expressed challenges with tailoring and adapting inclusive activities remotely as well as scheduling activities with children in full time care.

A number of organisations noted a gradual decline in online engagement as lockdown continued. ‘Digital exhaustion’ prompted parents to restrict and prioritise screen time for family calls and education.

Community SPA organisations, leisure operators and charitable organisations have been impacted financially by immediate losses of income, fewer opportunities to fundraise or renew memberships, losses in contractual and service delivery income.

The boroughs leisure operator GLL who manage leisure centres, athletics arena and some park sport facilities have found themselves with and immediate loss of revenue to maintain their services. The closure of these services have significantly limited people’s ability to lead healthy and active lifestyles.

The workforce providing SPA affected self-employed or sole trader instructors see immediate impact with the loss of paid opportunities with many not eligible for financial aid from the government.

Significant numbers of staff in charity sector and leisure organisations have been furloughed resulting in some additional pressures on the remaining workforce. This has subsequently impacted the sectors ability to mobilise SPA facilities as government restrictions on social distancing have relaxed.

All organisations under these new conditions have adopted new ways of working, planning, holding meetings and making decisions. A number of constituted sport clubs recalled delivering AGM’s and committee meetings via video call.

The financial impact has been varied across the borough with a number of factors being recalled.

The timing of Covid-19 on competition and membership collection  with activities ending their winter season early have generally coping better than activities that have had the start of the summer season delayed. Clubs with the fewest financial liabilities were able to cease activities immediately and in some cases have experienced no financial impact.

Clubs with higher thresholds of financial reserves have found it difficult to access support and relief schemes. One club has reduced a £15k deficit on a usual years trading through crowd funding and member donations.

SPA organisations who lease or rent their own facilities have faced uncertainty. Of the clubs interviewed all had received a rent reduction/ holiday from their landlord.

 

How effectively has the support provided by DCMS, other Government departments and arms-length bodies addressed the sector’s needs?

SPA providers felt arm’s length organisations and bodies have responded well to the sectors need and showed leadership at a time of uncertainty. A number of providers had accessed the Sport England Community Emergency Fund as a well as the Croydon Council small business interruption grants.

A small number of SPA providers expressed frustration at being unsuccessful in securing the Sport England Community Emergency Fund. They added that there appeared to be no consistency across successful organisations that received the funding particularly when the clubs are located in affluent communities with well-resourced National Governing Bodies (NGBs).

SPA Providers were particularly appreciative for regular dialogue and disseminating key information, Croydon Council, London Sport, UK Active and Street Games were mentioned as leading examples. Some SPA providers however found the amount of information available overwhelming and would have preferred a coordinated approach across all funding partners.

National Governing Bodies (NGB’s) have provided leadership, guidance and alternative online engagement ideas. England Athletics, Lawn Tennis Association and England & Wales Cricket Board being mentioned as leading examples in this category.

There was however a concern that SPA providers were being expected to pay membership fees even when no activity has or is unlikely to be delivered this year. SPA providers raised concerns that NGB’s are also making staff redundant or furloughing.

Clubs and organisations would also like to know what support and guidance will continue to be offered as activity begins to restart, and particularly for small companies or providers.  Concern that NGB’s and Councils will not have the funding to support facility development or participation programmes/initiatives.

Funding bodies/providers have been supportive – understanding of the impact of Covid-19 and been flexible and understanding. Grants for externally funded programme have been placed on hold, rather than being withdrawn. 

 

What will the likely long-term impacts of Covid-19 be on the sector, and what support is needed to deal with those?

Many SPA providers were particularly positive about the way people are connecting and broadened the digital skills and knowledge base. The rapid increase in the usage of video calling has made connecting to NGB’s and Council’s easier than ever.

Concern that SPA provider won’t be able to provide a safe and sustainable return to delivering activities. Support from NGB’s and Croydon Council is crucial to support these organisations with activity and facility guidance.

All SPA providers interviewed had no immediate concerns about the future existence of their club although some had experienced a significant reduction in their reserves and a long-term loss of income. There is however concern that a second lockdown could risk the financial viability of their organisation.

Due to social distancing guidelines there is further concerns that SPA providers renting public facilities (schools, leisure centres etc.) will experience further delay in resuming activities as facilities will prioritise curriculum or revenue generating activities. This could result in the loss of pre-Covid regular bookings and a decline in community usage at public facilities.

SPA providers expressed a concern that a further disconnect with demographic groups who already struggle to maintain their activity and engagement levels. Funding to provide low cost provision as well as having access to good facilities at community tariff is important to engage demographic groups including women and girls, long-term health conditions, disabilities, older people, BAME communities and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

 

What lessons can be learnt from how DCMS, arms-length bodies and the sector have dealt with Covid-19?

It has been widely accepted that organisations such as Sport England and UK Active have shown strong leadership through the Covid-19 pandemic. SPA providers have welcomed the benefits of stronger dialogue with their local authority and NGB’s and are keen to ensure this is continued as the sector emerges and seeks to fully recover from Covid-19. From our survey almost all SPA providers knew about the support schemes available, it was however noted that these same organisations had a very differing interpretation of who the support was available to.

One organisation raised the issue that whilst survival of the sector was of the utmost importance we also need to acknowledge that many of society’s challenges still exist. SPA has a role to play in addressing these wider social issues even during lockdown. In order to address these issues government departments need to proactively and collectively champion opportunities to address these issues and give SPA providers time to prepare, adapt and deliver meaningful interventions. Specific reference was made to Free School Meals and Holiday Hunger initiatives.

 

How might the sector evolve after Covid-19, and how can DCMS support such innovation to deal with future challenges?

Covid-19 has undoubtedly had an impact on changing the population’s activity habits under lockdown. Individual/ small sided activities such as golf and tennis have been able to return to a ‘new normal’ much sooner than team, mass participation and indoor activities.

People’s habits will continue to change after restrictions are relaxed rather than simply returning to normal. There’s concern across the fitness sector that people have made significant investment in home exercise equipment and have discovered the low cost benefits of online fitness programmes. There is also a concern that will be low confidence in the safety of exercising in public facilities.

Volunteering and social action are deemed crucial to support our transition out of lockdown, improving social connection, wellbeing and community cohesion. There is a concern that a limited pool of volunteers may get lost to activities that are able to mobilise faster from Covid-19 or simply don’t return to volunteering at all. There needs to be incentivised training schemes to support volunteers.

There is also some optimism that a large section of the public have used their time during lockdown to engage in activities listed on the governments approved exercise list. The SPA providers interviewed largely had personally engaged in walking, running and cycling and had noticed an increase in these activities amongst their service users. Fitness tracking apps had become a popular way to keep engaged with members through trending challenges such as “5K for heroes”. One athletics club acknowledged a growth opportunity to embrace a legacy similar to that of the London 2012 Olympics.

Community SPA providers recognise the need to collaborate with other organisations to design and deliver high-quality experiences. Providers equally want to feel part of the design and packaging of any schemes designed to aid sector recovery. Previously, there was a feeling that pre-Covid 19 schemes gave overly challenging delivery windows and were detached from the reality of delivering front-line interventions