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Strategic Priority

Sport and Physical Activity

Sport & Physical Activity Sector

Throughout the pandemic, the government prioritised the importance of physical activity, permitting basic exercise at all times. Active Essex wants to capitalise on this momentum and ensure the county’s sport and physical activity sector can thrive. Collectively we need to be capable of supporting the counties economic recovery, reconnecting our communities and ultimately changing people’s lives.

The Essex sport and physical activity sector is broad and dynamic, yet Covid-19 has and continues to severely test the resilience of community sports clubs and organisations. The pandemic clearly raised the importance and profile of physical activity, and the Fit for the Future strategy builds on the positive spotlight that the pandemic has shone on this, acknowledging the challenges our sector currently faces.

Current state of play:

jobs in Essex working in community sport and physical activity
contributed to the Essex economy from sport and physical activity

*ESMI data

Sector Support

Physical activity and sport in Essex, Southend and Thurrock must be managed and delivered by a diverse range of people who are inclusive, highly skilled, and able to make a full contribution to the health and social fabric of Essex.

Since 2020 Active Essex have been working with partners, employers, education, and training providers to understand more about the challenges the sector face and the impact of Covid-19 on the labour market.

In 2018 Active Essex launched a Sector Skills Strategy for Essex, which primarily looked to support skill gaps and focused on training individuals appropriately in response to immediate labour market need, helping organisations fill vacant roles and bringing awareness of Apprenticeships and Traineeships. Priorities highlighted in the Essex Skills Strategy and subsequent Training Needs Analysis (2021), confirmed that labour market challenges and skills gaps remain the same despite significant investment. This has reinforced the need to look differently at the sector’s challenges and the need to look through a longer-term lens.

Active Essex is committed to embedding this ambition within their own culture, working with CIMSPA as an Employer Partner and as part of the East Region Skills Pilot.


More recently, we have looked to support our sector build resilience and sustainability, providing bespoke capacity building support to organisations. Main areas include;

  • Expert advice on legal structures
  • Good governance
  • Creating robust business plans
  • Fundraising strategies.

Further to the success of this work we supported the creation of the Essex Leisure Operators Forum. A platform for local authority leisure providers and their contractors to share successes, challenges, and new ways of working.

The support has been very useful, helping our understanding about the structure of the club and what we need to become aware of. This has helped with applying for grants and therefore on a longer-term basis our sustainability. The changes we have been able to/will make with this information has been invaluable.
Ability Using Sport

People, Culture, Skills

As a sector we strive to provide positive, inclusive experiences so everyone can enjoy an active lifestyle and be free from harm. We must work harder to ensure our organisations are setting the same standards for our workforce.

Over the past year we have been working closely with our employer, education and skills partners to better understand the current landscape and collectively look at how we get to a better future. As part of the East Region Sector Skills Pilot with CIMSPA we have undertaken an OTNA with over 100 employers or Sole traders and accessed a Labour Market Report through Emsi. On the back of this work, we launched the Essex Sport & Physical Activity Skills Advisory Panel made up of industry leaders and skills specialists, to act as a sounding board and drive change.

In May 2022, Active Essex launched the People, Culture and Skills framework to sit alongside ‘Fit for the Future’. The Framework for the Sport and Physical Activity sector in Essex, Southend and Thurrock outlines why efforts must be focused on creating people-centred cultures in order to thrive and how volunteers and professionals, need to be recognised, supported, and developed so they can meet the changing needs of their audiences and communities.

The People, Culture and Skills work is also reflected internally, Active Essex believe they should lead the way and set example of good practice for the sector to follow. They have an improvement plan for the organisation and Stretch Groups to drive this plan. These groups are made up of the Active Essex team and currently cover;

  • - Ways of Working; Hybrid Model Approach, Meeting Structures, sharing of learning
  • - Team & culture; People Development, Our Culture, Wellbeing
  • - Impact; information gathering tools, reporting and delivery
  • - Comms & Marketing; Strategy, engagement plan, campaigns and events

An area of work established through the Team and Culture Stretch Group is our People Plan. This outlines Active Essex's commitment to People Development and is essential to enable them to achieve their goals. They support staff by understanding their learning and development needs, supporting aspirations, nurturing individual talents, ensuring equality of opportunity and enhancing organisational capability. They are in the process of reviewing the People Plan which will look at current recruitment and onboarding processes.

I would say the biggest strength of the organisation, is our high staff retention; this proves that staff are looked after, valued, and continue to evolve in their roles.
Staff Satisfaction Survey

Active Essex Workforce Composition

Towards our ongoing Equality, Diversity and Inclusion work we have made a commitment to report Active Essex’s workforce composition data annually. In our latest staff demographic survey (July 2022) 80% of our workforce responded and provided data. Below shows our workforce composition by ethnicity, disability, gender, sexual orientation, and age.


  • 13% self-identified their ethnic group or background as from an ethnically diverse background (Asian/ Asian British 3.3%, Black/African/Caribbean/Black British 3.3%, Mixed/ Multiple ethnic groups 3.3%, Other Ethnic Group 3.3%)
  • 87% self-identified their background as White/ White British


  • 10% self-identified as having a disability
  • 87% self-identified as not having a disability
  • 3% preferred to not self-identify for this category


  • 70% self-identified their gender as female
  • 30% self-identified their gender as male
  • 0% self-identified as transgender or non-binary

Sexual Orientation

  • 7% self-identified as LGBQ+
  • 90% self-identified as Straight or Heterosexual
  • 3% preferred not to self-identify for this category


  • 19 and under: 0%
  • 20 – 29: 30%
  • 30 – 39: 33%
  • 40 – 49: 23.3%
  • 50 – 59: 13.3%
  • 60 or over: 0%

Embedding Physical Activity into the Health System

Covid-19 has had a huge impact on our NHS, and the Sport & Physical activity sector should be recognised as a key partner in prevention and recovery. Active Essex has been working with colleagues in Clinical Commissioning Groups, and Primary Care Networks to establish clearer more supported pathways for individuals.

Mid North and South Essex, now have a Cancer Pre/Rehab Exercise Referral route from the Cancer Services into local leisure facilities. Across the footprint each Leisure Operator has at least one Level 4 Cancer trained specialist to lead the classes and a central, single point access set up for Cancer Nurses to refer into.

Embedding physical activity as an integral element within the wider system partners and workforce has been another focus area. Delivering bespoke physical activity training for partners such as the Essex Child and Family Wellbeing Service, Leaving and Aftercare teams and Mental Health Services, has offered support for practitioners to embed physical activity within their work.

The thousands of people in Essex who advocate the importance of an active lifestyle, or deliver physical activity and sport, such as coaches, instructors and leaders, are our most important and precious resource. Covid-19 has exacerbated the disparity in access to sport and physical activity opportunities and we must support our sector to return holding this firmly in mind.
Simon King, Sport & Physical Activity Lead
Simon King