5. 2b - Healthy and active city
"While activity levels have stabilised following the height of the pandemic and, in many instances, are starting to show signs of recovery – including a welcome return to team sports since July 2021 - this masks a concerning underlying picture.
Some groups, such as our youngest adults, continue to see activity levels fall at a worrying rate while our physical spaces, such as gyms and leisure centres, are seeing slow recovery in numbers – with those taking part in fitness activities remaining notably below pre-pandemic levels.
There are also widening inequalities, with the least affluent being the most impacted."
Active Lives Adult Survey, November 2020-21 Report, Sport England (April 2022)
Exeter is one of the healthiest places in the UK to live, however there are some areas in the city that have high levels of deprivation and some of the poorest health outcomes in England. There is a significant health inequality gap with a wide range of life expectancy between the most affluent and most deprived wards in the city.
Our approach to tackling these stubborn health inequalities includes investing in partnerships to develop skills and economic prosperity for all and taking a lead in supporting communities through an Asset-Based Community Development Approach (ABCD).
This is embodied in the pioneering Wellbeing Exeter network that provides community organisers in every ward in the city, working within their neighbourhoods on the issues that matter to people with the aim of enabling communities to thrive. Individuals and families are supported by community connectors linked to every GP surgery, community healthcare and council services who are able to refer people who would like help and support tackling practical social and lifestyle concerns. The council leads the Wellbeing Exeter programme, pooling funding from a range of partners including Devon County Council, NHS Primary Care Networks and Sport England.
In 2016, Exeter and the neighbouring new town of Cranbrook were selected by Sport England as one of twelve National Local Delivery Pilots. This reflected a brave new approach by Sport England to invest in key places using whole system thinking to encourage those who are less active to become more active in everyday life. This recognises the overwhelming evidence base of the health benefits of leading active lifestyles.
Our theory of change is that if we can encourage the least active to become more active in everyday life we will not only improve health outcomes, but we could also reduce congestion and improve air quality by encouraging more active travel for work, education and leisure.
Our work with Sport England has shown that, whilst overall activity levels in Exeter are high compared to local authorities across England, in some areas in the city physical activity for some communities is far lower than the average for Exeter and in comparison with other areas in the country. Our focus in addressing these issues is two-fold:
- Strategically through our aspirational Liveable Exeter vision of future neighbourhoods designed around active living through low-traffic, low-car use neighbourhoods designed to promote walking and cycling in all aspects of daily life.
- Secondly, through practical, community-based projects under the Live and Move programme. An example of this approach is the Exeter Green Circle where we are opening up valley parks and green spaces with improved infrastructure and signage, whilst simultaneously working with communities to find ways to encourage greater use of these brilliant community assets.
We have some confidence that this place-based approach may be having a positive impact as the National Audit Office (2022) have reported that prior to the pandemic inactivity levels were reducing at a higher rate in the Local Delivery Pilot areas than in comparative areas in England.
However in Exeter and elsewhere, the impact of the pandemic on activity levels, health outcomes and widening inequalities is significant. Our fieldwork has identified that residents in our poorest neighbourhoods are three times more likely to be inactive than the mainstream population. There has been a fall in activity levels and a decrease in general health and wellbeing for those on low incomes and from culturally-diverse communities.
A further factor that has impacted on physical activity levels is the closure of leisure centres and pausing of community sports during the pandemic. Community sports and informal activity organisers are regrouping, delivering activities and finding new ways of engaging with people after long periods of isolation and uncertainty. However, in some localities there has been a lasting impact of Covid on the leisure sector with around 30% of leisure centres and swimming pools unable to re-open following the pandemic closures.
Due to our long-standing investment in council-owned leisure centres and swimming pools, and our decision in 2021 to take back direct management of our leisure estate in response to pandemic challenges, we have reopened existing centres, including a fully refurbished Riverside Swimming Pool and Leisure Centre. In April 2022 we opened St Sidwell’s Point, our flagship leisure centre, the UK’s first ultra-low energy, Passivhaus leisure centre and swimming pool complex. This facility, and five other leisure centres under our direct management, symbolise our ambition to increase activity levels and improve the health of communities across the city.
- Responding to the post-pandemic impact on health inequalities and deprivation including a decrease in physical inactivity for those on low incomes or from culturally-diverse communities.
- Increasing socio-economic challenges and their impact on health inequalities and wellbeing with fuel poverty for example, resulting in reduced mental and physical wellbeing, with people in particular groups increasingly feeling isolated and unable to cope.
- Finding a sustainable funding model for Wellbeing Exeter, which we know makes a difference to the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities at a time of increasing pressure on public sector budgets.
- The ongoing risks to public swimming pools, gyms and leisure centres nationwide as a consequence of the Covid pandemic and increasing costs.
- The impact of the increasing cost of living, wage bill and energy on costs, whilst trying to keep costs to Exeter residents low and fulfil our aim of running cost-neutral Exeter Leisure services.
How we will address this priority - headline actions
Through Wellbeing Exeter we lead a unique partnership that employs community builders and connectors across the city who work with individuals and communities to identify what matters to them and then plan a forward together.
- Develop a sustainable funding and delivery model for Wellbeing Exeter in partnership with its strategic funders and operational delivery partners.
- Increase referrals so more residents can improve their physical and mental health through conversations with Wellbeing Exeter Community Connector team.
- Encourage and support Community Builders working with communities keen to address local and city challenges of Net Zero.
- Increase connections for people in communities to access local activities on their doorsteps through working with Wellbeing Community Physical Activity Organiser team.
- In partnership with Exeter Leisure Services, develop a wellbeing programme for those on low incomes or experiencing challenging circumstances to enjoy our leisure facilities.
- Increase the number of residents from our most challenged communities accessing introductory and beginner activity opportunities through community-based and Exeter Leisure programmes.
Live and Move (Sport England Local Delivery Pilot)
We run a programme funded by Sport England called ‘Live and Move’, supporting people to walk and cycle more in their everyday lives.
- Work with Devon County Council to consult on and launch the Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan to tackle
congestion, improve physical and mental health, and support community economies in the city.
- Encourage more residents to access strategic cycle routes across Exeter.
- Launch the Exeter Green Circle with a new digital app and improve a network of short walks connected to the 13 mile circular route.
- Consult on and finalise designs to deliver public realm and highway improvements in Newtown, developing a low-traffic neighbourhood.
- Develop Active Design standards within the council’s planning service to embed low-traffic neighbourhoods within Liveable Exeter developments and the future Exeter Local Plan.
- Deliver a new green travel plan for the council with walking and cycling to work as the main mode of transport.
- Deliver a planning application for a new Wonford Community Wellbeing Hub.
Exeter Leisure Services
Our in-house leisure service ‘Exeter Leisure’ offers leisure facilities and activities at six sites in the city, including our world-class leisure centre, St Sidwell’s Point, helping and encouraging everyone to lead active and healthy lifestyles.
- Ensure a successful first year of operation for St Sidwell’s Point, maximising take-up of leisure activities.
- Operate an effective, cost-neutral leisure service.
- Explore commercial opportunities for Exeter Leisure.
- Review the operation of the leisure service, the use of our wet and dry facilities and identify options for improvement and investment.
- Work with Sport England to develop our leisure strategy and secure external investment to deliver the Wonford Community Wellbeing hub.
- Deliver a new playing pitch strategy for the city that invests in and supports residents to access green spaces, grass and artificial sports pitches.