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Working Together to Tackle Inactivity and the Climate Crisis

Physical inactivity is one of the greatest challenges to the health and wellbeing of our population. An even greater challenge (and threat) is posed by the climate emergency. By promoting physical activity, we can not only improve the health and wellbeing of local people, but we can also reduce our impact on the environment, for example by encouraging active travel. In the same way, promoting environmentally-friendly initiatives can increase physical activity, for example by reducing car travel and improving walking and cycle infrastructure.

Active Environments and Active Travel are key priorities in the County Durham Sport strategy. We are passionate about creating a local environment where being active is an easy choice for everyone. What’s good for our health is also good for the health of the environment. The more we can get outdoors and active in nature, the less time we spend on more polluting activities (like driving) – and the more time we spend appreciating and protecting our natural environment! Our like-minded colleagues in Durham County Council are supporting us in this mission, with the creation of a specific working group jointly focused on the environment and physical activity.

To create the Active Environments we want to see, requires a complex systems approach. We need to tackle the problem from a variety of angles. Working in partnership with Durham County Council (whose Climate Emergency Response Plan has been developed in consultation with local people) we are uniting local strategists and policy-makers around a shared vision for a greener, healthier county through more opportunities for physical activity.

Steve Bhowmick (Environment and Design Strategic Manager, Environmental Services, Durham County Council) is leading the project to identify new opportunities to bring both physical activity and environmentally-friendly approaches into local strategy – in a complementary, joined-up manner. To support the project, County Durham Sport have employed Rachel Kurtz (PhD Researcher, Durham University). Rachel is reviewing existing local strategy documents to identify areas of local strategy which have (or have not) addressed the issues of physical inactivity and the climate emergency. This review will help us understand where a joined-up approach has already been adopted, and where a more joined-up approach could be encouraged.

 “I am really pleased to be working with County Durham Sport to help identify areas of improvement and potential fusion in policy around physical activity and climate change/the environment. My own PhD looking at physical activity in primary schools is still in the early stages but there is a great deal of overlap and as someone who loves the outdoors, I am excited to be able to focus more broadly and include an environmental perspective too. The team have been very welcoming and I am finding the work really interesting. Most of all I appreciate the opportunity to contribute towards positive change around two issues of enormous personal, social and global importance.”

(Rachel Kurtz, PhD Researcher, Durham University – researching how schools and teachers promote movement in the classroom to support children’s learning and wellbeing)

A summary of this review will be presented to the County Durham Physical Activity Strategy Committee (PASC). By identifying gaps and opportunities in local strategy, we will provide the PASC with an evidence-base from which to discuss next steps to tackle inactivity and climate change together. As a leading member of the PASC, County Durham Sport will be shaping these discussions and working closely with our partners at Durham County Council and in Public Health to create positive change.


Live Longer Better: the revolution gathers pace

County Durham Sport is proud to be part of the next phase of ‘Live Longer Better’, following a pilot phase led by Active Oxfordshire, Optimal Ageing, and Sir Muir Gray.

Co-ordinated by the Active Partnerships National Team, Live Longer Better unites 20 Active Partnerships and other national partners with a transformational shared purpose: to develop a new culture: from “care to enablement”. We want to use physical activity to create a culture where older adults live healthier, for longer.

To create this shift, three significant changes are taking place:

“We need to reduce the need for social care by making the term ‘care’, meaning just doing things for people redundant and enabling people to achieve physical and cognitive development as they live longer” (Sir Muir Gray)

Collectively, we are fully charged and ready to lead this revolution.  We are ambitious and determined. This is a strong unified movement, collectively utilising the power of physical activity. We will drive forward the transformational shared purpose – to develop a new culture: from “care to enablement”.

County Durham Sport are driving local change by engaging with the voluntary sector, academics, the NHS, and local policy makers. We are also working with Jo Edwards (Director, Lucidity Solutions) to:

 “Health inequalities affect large numbers of people in County Durham and residents can expect to spend more years living in ill health than in many other parts of the country. As the UK population ages, we must work across the system to ensure that a healthy and active life is an easy choice for everyone (no matter what their age). We must also challenge the prejudice and inequalities faced in later life. As we live longer, those of us working in sport and physical activity need to promote movement and wellbeing throughout the lifecycle so we can Live Longer Better.” (Dr. Maxine Rhodes, Managing Director, County Durham Sport).

For more information about Live Longer Better, please contact dweekes@activepartnerships.org

older persons being active


PhD researcher on secondment at County Durham Sport (January to March 2021) – Sophie Phillips (Durham University)

Dr. Rachel Mowbray (Insight Coordinator, County Durham Sport)

Sophie’s PhD research is all about measuring movement-related behaviours of pre-school aged children. Sophie has been on a three-month secondment at County Durham Sport, this has included: reviewing and communicating early years physical activity research and provision, analysing local health data to identify priority areas for physical activity intervention, and collaborating with the Durham Research Methods Centre (Durham University) to identify predictors of inactivity using data from Sport England’s Active Lives Surveys. I asked Sophie all about her time with us at County Durham Sport.

What have you enjoyed the most about your secondment at County Durham Sport?

I have really enjoyed contributing to a variety of different projects which can directly improve the knowledge and practical application of physical activity locally. I have also really valued gaining insight into the physical activity and broader health landscape of County Durham and meeting different people working around these topics.

Are there any new skills or ways of working which you have learned on secondment that you will now use in your academic work?

I have developed my skills with translating academic evidence to non-academic audiences; to extract information from academic papers and translate this into something meaningful for stakeholders who work closely with the local community. This has given me a different perspective on my own ways of working, not only practically in terms of how I want to continue with community-led research, but also the importance of presenting academic research through different means to communicate with partners and stakeholders.

Which partners have you been engaging with during your time at CDS?

I have had the opportunity to engage with more partners and stakeholders than I could have imagined! I have not only had the chance to work alongside and learn from colleagues at County Durham Sport, but I have also worked with Durham County Council staff who conduct physical activity, early years and health related work. I have also had the opportunity to have insightful discussions with providers of early years physical activity programmes and be involved with conversations around new physical activity initiatives.

What do you think are the biggest benefits of collaboration between academic and non-academic partners?

I think there is so much that we can learn from each other. Collaborating means: having the opportunity to view things through a ‘different lens’; determining how we can align and challenge our ways of thinking; and working together to effectively achieve the same goals of helping people to be more active and to reduce health inequalities.

We would like to thank Dr. Iain Lindsey and Dr. Caroline Dodd Reynolds (Sport and Exercise Science Department, Durham University) for securing funding for this post and for their continued support. The secondment was funded by UKRI QR Strategic Priorities Fund, awarded through Durham University.