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Reflections 2021-2022

Azeem Akhtar, Chairman of Active Essex

Four years of Changing One Million Lives. Three years of piloting initiatives in our most disadvantaged communities. Two years of being locked down in a pandemic that had detrimental effect on activity levels, creating serious challenges for our sector and communities.

2021, was a pivotal year we knew we needed to utilise in order to build back our communities. The position of physical activity and sport was strong as a result of Covid-19, and created an opportunity to support those most impacted as we stepped into a new chapter of creating an active Essex to improve everyone’s health and wellbeing.

Our role and position in the complex ecosystem of Essex; a 2-tier local authority system, 15 local authorities, 3 integrated care systems and 14 CVS's, has been strengthened as a result of the pandemic. As we reached the end of our Changing One Million Lives strategy, we were able to pause and reflect on the impact we had made and what we achieved. I’m proud of my team who were able to adapt and respond quickly using their transferable skills and extensive knowledge of place-based working, to curate further relationships through the community hub work and supporting the clinically vulnerable. The innovative work of the Local Delivery Pilot (LDP) has enhanced our thinking, and the learnings from the pandemic helped us to shape the future of the sector.

July 2021 saw the launch of the systems Fit for the Future strategy; a rallying call to action for partners, stakeholders, organisations and people across Essex who recognise the enormous contribution physical activity and sport can make to the health and wellbeing of everyone across Essex, Southend and Thurrock. We are making good progress in helping communities build back better from Covid-19, developing partnerships, tackling inequalities and improving health and wellbeing across the county.

Our place-based working model, which we started in 2017, has developed further through the learnings of the LDP. We have grown and realigned the team to ensure the thematic leads reflect the new strategic priorities, as well as recruit six new Board Members to drive this work further. Our strategic priorities have been outlined through the delivery of the implementation plans, which has helped give focus to the direction of Active Essex. I’m particularly proud of the steps we’ve taken in developing the way we evaluate our work, prioritising the collection and analysis of data to provide insight so that the sector can progress together.

The Fit for the Future vision and mission closely aligns to Sport England's Uniting the Movement strategy. This has been underpinned by our behaviour change campaign, which saw us leverage in 2 million pounds to help bring to life and amplify the agenda of the 10-year Fit for the Future strategy.

The Find Your Active campaign has provided universal encouragement and information about physical activity; as well as help reduce social isolation through our community connectors, strengthened communities using our ambassadors and the activation fund has enabled us to support those most affected by Covid-19. The campaign celebrates the fact that everyone can enjoy the huge benefits of moving more – it’s just about finding what’s right for you.

Through our behaviour change work, we have been successful in amplifying the message, harnessing the power of our system and cohort of brilliant partners and stakeholders, who have all adopted the campaign and made it their own. I have been overwhelmed by the support of Find Your Active and I truly believe this has helped to hardwire physical activity into more systems than ever before, and pave the way for our journey forward.

Find Your Active has been a catalyst in a lot of our work over the past 9 months, informing our decision making. As such, we rebranded the annual awards to be more accessible and inclusive, celebrating every individual no matter their achievement. The great work of Essex ActivAte not only ensured children and families could be supported at face-to-face clubs, but could also access online activities via our YouTube channel. This also became a hub of activity and wellness for many residents who still felt anxious about getting active outside of their home over the winter.

Furthermore, we have made fantastic progress within the LDP and it is clearer than ever that a place-based approach and adopting community orientated systemic change, unlocks truly ground-breaking initiatives in tackling physical inactivity. Over the past couple of months, we continue to move from transactional to relationship-based investment, where we have seen the Essex Pedal Power initiative begin to scale and replicate across the county. Likewise, the rapid expansion of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) and its implementation by the Essex ecosystem, continues to thrive.

An element that underpins everything, is our commitment to being an anti-racist organisation, where we were early adopters of the Race Equality Code at the beginning of 2021. We are passionate in proactively working to address the racial inequalities that prevent or discourage people from leading active lives.

Essex County Council has set out to make Levelling Up a key priority for the county and we are playing our part by hardwiring physical activity in to this agenda, to help tackle the inequalities within Essex. This is another great example of working across the system to ensure physical activity is accessible for all.

New and exciting challenges are constantly arising. A new partnership between Essex County Council and London Marathon Events, brought RideLondon to Essex for the first time this May; a festival of cycling which saw 120 of the world's best female riders and over 20,000 ammetur cyclists take part in the mass participation event, scaling 65 miles of Essex roads. Active Essex played a pivotal role in activating the county, bringing communities together and inspiring residents to get involved in cycling.

As ever, the delivery plan is constantly evolving. Following our new relationship with London Marathon Events, The London Marathon Charitable Trust has awarded Essex a £1 million grant, to scale and replicate successful active travel initiatives, support inclusive cycling groups and community projects that help residents to get moving. This is all being built around the learnings of our successful Find Your Active campaign. which will no doubt be our launch pad in shaping our future work to achieve our vision, and I’m excited for the year ahead.