Sport participation is falling in Suffolk by thousands a year – Sport England’s Active People Survey

The weekly parkrun in Bury St Edmunds, which has the current best sports participation rate in Suffo

The weekly parkrun in Bury St Edmunds, which has the current best sports participation rate in Suffolk.

Thousands fewer people are playing sport in Suffolk since London 2012, an “alarming” new report has shown.

Rugby action from Bury RFC v Barnstaple at GK Haberden.
Pic: Mark Bullimore.

Rugby action from Bury RFC v Barnstaple at GK Haberden. Pic: Mark Bullimore. - Credit: Mark Bullimore/Mark Bullimore Ph

Suffolk is now ranked among the five worst counties for sport participation in England, Sport England’s last-ever Active People Survey showed.

Last night, Bill Tancred, the former Suffolk Olympian and double Commonwealth Games medallist, described the news as a “wake-up call”.

The survey, which details participation levels in grassroots sport, found the proportion of adults aged over 16 playing sport for at least 30 minutes once a week fell from 34.6% in October 2014-September 2015, to 33.6% in October 2015-September 2016 in Suffolk.

It was 34.8% in both 2011/12 and 2012/13. It means that around 10,000 fewer people are playing sport in Suffolk since the London Olympics, raising local doubts over the Games’ legacy. The total figure has fallen from 254,074 to 245,313 since the Games.

Bill Tancred said the survey should serve as a wake-up call for Suffolk.

Bill Tancred said the survey should serve as a wake-up call for Suffolk. - Credit: Archant

The news will also be a serious dent to Suffolk County Council’s (SCC) bid to become the most active county in England. Suffolk is now ranked the 23rd worst out of 27 counties. This is one spot above Norfolk (32.9%), but 10 places below Essex (35.7%).

Mr Tancred said: “It is not a surprise and a little bit alarming. People mustn’t give up, mustn’t be complacent.

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“It is a wake-up call. Suffolk wants to be the most active county by 2028 and people who are responsible need to check areas where the figures have dropped and improve it for 2017.

“More funding could be put in place and we could have more sporting motivators offering support.”

There are wide variations in Suffolk, however. St Edmundsbury was the most active district (39.7%, up from 36.1%), while Waveney was the least active (26.2%, down from 32.5%).

There were increases for Babergh (from 31.6% to 34.8%), Forest Heath (33% to 33.6%) and Suffolk Coastal (33.6% to 34.4%), but decreases for Ipswich (38% down to 33.5%) and Mid Suffolk (36% to 34%).

Tony Goldson, cabinet member for health at SCC, said the authority is “leading efforts to turn the tide of inactivity”.

He said: “We’re obviously disappointed. This reinforces the need for local partners to continue to work collaboratively to bolster efforts. The size of the task is significant but essential.”

Nationally, there was a 1.4% increase. Local breakdowns for sports were not available, but there were national increases in swimming, following years of decline, football, hockey, gymnastics and netball. Athletics, cycling and boxing reported declines.

Margaret Maybury, portfolio holder for engagement at Babergh District Council, said more initiatives are targeting rural people, such as their ‘Fit Villages’ scheme.

She added: “There is still work to be done, but the latest results are encouraging.”

Yesterday’s report was the final Active People Survey before it changes to Active Lives, which will be a wider assessment of physical activity.

An Ipswich Borough Council spokesman said its own data showed an 18% increase of visits to sports centres and swimming pools in the last year.

He said: “It is now accepted the (Active People Survey) doesn’t provide reliable and accurate results. We look forward to their more accurate measurements.”

John Clough, director of Suffolk Sport, said: “While it is disappointing to see a fall in the once a week participation in sport figures, the change is not a statistically significant one.

“In many respects, to focus solely upon this indicator gives an incomplete picture of sport and physical activity levels across the county. On the broader activity measure of three times 30 minutes sport and active recreation a week Suffolk has seen a statistically significant increase over the lifetime of the Active People Survey.

“Similarly, Suffolk is around the best performing quartile of local authorities in terms of the number of people who are inactive. In short, there are many indicators which need to be taken in the round to give a more complete picture.

“With the launch of Sport England’s new strategy earlier this year, the Active People Survey is being discontinued and replaced with the Active Lives Survey. This will take a more holistic view and will be more aligned to measuring the outcomes articulated in the new Strategy.

“The need to reduce inactivity levels remains extremely important and Suffolk Sport will continue to work with a broad-range of partners in order to tackle inactivity and raise participation levels across the county.”