This article was written by Damian and published in this week's Herald editions and Petersfield Post:
"Although recent rainfall and Storm Cristoph brought disruption for many across the country, the arrival of snow last weekend brought lots of children and families outdoors; if not sledging or building a snowman, then just enjoying a walk along snowy paths and fields.
It was a reminder of the simple pleasure of playing outside, something that has not been easy to do in the middle of a lockdown, during winter. Unlike the first lockdown last March, with its exceptional dry and sunny weather, the opportunity to get outside and enjoy some exercise in recent weeks has been difficult.
And with grassroot sports clubs and groups not able to operate, leisure centres and pools closed, outdoor sport courts and courses shut, and most not at school, there is a risk that the amount of exercise we are taking is far below what it should be, particularly for children.
The latest Actives Lives Children and Young People Survey published recently by Sport England showed that only 44 per cent met the [Chief Medical Officer] guidelines of taking part in sport and physical activity for an average of 60 minutes or more a day. And this was a fall on the previous year.
There is no doubt that the pandemic has had a big impact on children and young people’s engagement in sport and physical activity, as it has also for many adults. Despite an increase in both walking and cycling, the longer term effect on other sporting activities could be marked – the lack of access to organised activities can quickly lead to a drop off in motivation and confidence – both of which are an important part in getting people involved in sports.
Joe Wicks’s online PE lessons have proven that it is still possible to do some exercise from home, and the structure and togetherness of the programme has proven incredibly popular. Other fitness instructors and even school staff have been running similar online classes, hoping to provide that encouragement and momentum to get started and create a new routine.
And the online After School Sport Club launched by the Youth Sport Trust during the November lockdown (and now extended until at least the end of March) is already engaging with thousands of young people, helping to fill the void of school and community sport. The charity teamed up with the National Governing Bodies of 11 different sports to devise a range of fun and challenging sessions broadcast live twice a week through their YouTube page.
Encouragement is really important. Exercising with others - whether online or in real life – is often the all-important motivation we need, and the success of schemes such as Parkrun and Couch to 5k are certainly testament to that.
I had the opportunity last week to talk with a number of East Hampshire local sports clubs, as part of a ‘virtual roundtable’ organised by the DCMS Select Committee, on which I sit. Gathering evidence as part of the committee’s inquiry into the impact of the pandemic on sport, the insights were important.
Clearly there has been a big financial impact on clubs who rely on income from supporters, and revenue from the clubhouse and events.
There are worries that some members will have ‘fallen out’ of the sporting habit and a lot of work will be needed to rebuild. But one local club also reported that they had seen their membership swell during the past year (before the current lockdown), with more people seeing a chance to play sport with family, and spending less time commuting.
Sports clubs are at the heart of our local communities – hockey, football, rugby, golf, tennis, squash, gymnastics, swimming to name but a few – and run by people who are passionate, not only about the sport but also what it can mean for communities. For many young people, joining a local club will be their first opportunity to try out a sport, and for some it may even be the start of a professional career.
And just as we know how important school is for the academic development of children and young people, we know how vital it is that sport and physical exercise remains a key part of school life. The School Sport and Activity Action Plan was launched during my time as Education Secretary, a cross-government initiative to provide pupils with greater opportunity to access 60 minutes of sport and physical activity every day. One theme that has run through our Select Committee inquiry has been the need there will be, when we come out of this, to get that back on track.
Enabling children to access the right amount of daily activity is important for both physical and mental wellbeing. It also helps them develop important skills like teamwork and tenacity. A positive experience of sport and physical activity at a young age can build a lifetime habit of participation.
It's particularly hard at the moment when there’s so much we can’t do, and cold weather and dark evenings too - but taking that first step is often the hardest bit of all."