OPINION: Why I'm seeking funds for more sport in Ipswich

Swimmers cool off at Broomhill swimming pool, Ipswich. Will the lido reopen? Picture: ARCHANT

Broomhill lido pictured during a busy summer before its closure - Credit: Archant/Paul Nixon

As one of the most inactive towns in England, improving access to sports facilities is one of the most direct and effective changes we can make in Ipswich to see an improvement to health outcomes. 

It’s clear to me that access to facilities for sport and exercise are absolutely crucial to encouraging people into healthier lifestyle choices. Currently, some Ipswich sports facilities are tired, like the Gainsborough Sports Centre, or out of use entirely like the Broomhill Lido.

That’s why when Ipswich had the chance to put in a bid for the Levelling Up Fund, a Government grant designed to give local authorities some money to improve opportunities in their local area, I pushed for a sports related bid. 

Grassroots sports are something I am keen to support across Ipswich; we have some fantastic clubs and groups here locally, like the Ipswich Vale Exiles FC and Ipswich Rugby Club on Humber Doucy Lane, both of which are doing great work encouraging people to get involved in sport and get active.

The BMX track in Gainsborough, which received £110,000 of funding from British Cycling, is an important example of a club getting young people into positive activity and it’s vital that we continue to support these initiatives.

We have some great opportunities for young people locally, with initiatives like Inspire Suffolk and programmes run by Ipswich Town football club encouraging young people to get active over their summer holidays.

These kind of activities provide our young people with valuable ways to channel energy, as well as being social and physically active, and I will be visiting these in the coming weeks. 

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While there are some excellent examples of clubs and groups in Ipswich to promote sport and exercise, we need to ensure that there is access to good quality facilities for a range of ways to exercise. I still think there is more to be done in Ipswich here. 

My reasoning behind wanting a sports bid was based on our current levels of inactivity in Ipswich, and the significant impact this can have on both mental and physical health. 

Currently, Ipswich compares incredibly poorly to the rest of England when it comes to level of physical activity and levels of obesity. Ipswich has been ranked as the 8th most inactive town in England, something of real concern. In our town, less than 55% of adults are 'active', compared to the England average of 65.9%.

This just goes to show how desperately the town requires new and improved facilities and opportunities when it comes to sport and exercise. 

On top of this, 68.2% of adults in Ipswich are overweight or obese (compared with 63.5% in England), which has clear negative impacts on our health outcomes, with life expectancy in Ipswich below the national average.

A recent study showed that 40% of people here in the town do less than 30 minutes of exercise a week. I think that if we had better facilities, especially like Broomhill Lido, lots of local people would take up the opportunity to get active and get involved. The Lido, built originally in 1938, is not just an impressive art-deco shell, but has some real potential for the future. 

I personally think that reopening the Broomhill Lido would have a positive effect for all ages and abilities, as water exercise is a low impact activity which offers a huge range of uses. The Lido – which has been closed for 19 years – is something which many, including myself, would be very excited to see open again. 

As part of the funding which I am pushing for, the Lido would get a new gym, changing areas, high diving boards, and technology to extend the open season for the outdoor pool. This would provide a host of opportunities for local residents and I think it would have a huge positive impact on the local area. In terms of increasing access to a community facility, I think this project goes right to the heart of levelling up. It would be a great investment for the area. 

The Levelling Up Fund bid is also looking to upgrade Gainsborough Sports and Gymnastics Centre. As it stands, the centre attracts a large number of users but the facilities are tired and don’t have a big enough capacity. Upgrades to make the sports centre more usable and attractive would have significant benefits for the Town. 

The sports centre upgrades would bring eight sports courts, facilitating mass participation, as well as a health and wellbeing hub and exercise studios. With new high-grade sports pitches for football, Gainsborough Sports Centre will be hosting not only sport and exercise but also community events. If the bid is accepted, the gym will also be made four times bigger. 

This is a significant set of upgrades when it comes to ensuring community access to fitness, and I will be pushing Ministers to see the benefits of both of these projects for Ipswich. I will also continue to lobby Ministers in Westminster and work with the council in Ipswich to ensure we give the bid the best chance of success possible. 

Of course, access to sport facilities isn’t the whole story. When we look at health and mental wellbeing outcomes, there are a number of components which fit together – like provision of clinical and community mental health services, availability of healthy food options, and active lifestyle choices in general.

While all of these factors, and more, contribute to the health outcomes of the town, we know that activity levels are an important contributor and one which we can improve through increasing access and opportunity. 

Increasing opportunities, especially when these can influence health and mental wellbeing in the Town, goes right to the heart of the Government’s Levelling Up agenda. I am incredibly pleased to be working hard to support this Levelling Up bid to rejuvenate sports facilities in the Town, and I have my fingers crossed that this bid will be successful.

- Tom Hunt is the Conservative MP for Ipswich