Trafford Community Leisure Trust

Strengthening communities through increased female participation in physical activity

Creating and developing healthy and sustainable places and communities


While Trafford is an affluent borough overall, residents of the Gorse Hill, Stretford and Old Trafford wards experience high levels of deprivation. Participation in physical activity by women and girls in this area has been low.

Trafford Community Leisure Trust started running a female participation project in the area in 2008, targeting the most seldom heard women and girls. Many more are now taking part in regular physical activity.

The project has also strengthened community cohesion, created positive role models and jobs, and reduced anti-social behaviour and gang membership among girls.


According to the ‘Marmot Review' communities are important for physical and mental health and wellbeing. The physical and social characteristics of communities, and how far they enable and promote healthy behaviours, all contribute to social inequalities in health.

Trafford is an affluent borough. Overall, health outcomes are good, educational attainment high, and crime and anti-social behaviour low. But there are pockets of deprivation, characterised by poor educational attainment and health outcomes. Life expectancy is 11 years lower for men and almost six years lower for women in the most deprived areas than in the least deprived.

In Gorse Hill, Stretford and Old Trafford life expectancy is poor. Less than half the population is white, and more than 40 ethnic minority groups live there. National and local data showed very low levels of participation in physical activity by women and girls.

Trafford Community Leisure Trust operates seven leisure centres and two golf courses across Trafford and employs more than 500 staff. It has a partnership agreement and close working relationship with Trafford Council.

The female participation project aims to increase participation by women and girls in leisure activities, volunteering, leadership skills development and civic participation.

Who was involved?

The project costs £40,000 to £50,000 a year. A dedicated post was initially funded by:

  • the Trafford Community Leisure Trust
  • Gorse Hill Partnership – £5,000 a year
  • and Trafford Safer Partnership – £10,000 a year.

Funding from Trafford Safer Partnership ceased in 2010. The Trust has also invested £75,000 to £80,000 capital funding.

A Section 106 agreement with Manchester United Football Club generates a further £5,000.

The primary care trust (PCT) provides health data and helps with promotion.

The problem and how it was tackled

The main challenges to this project were:

  • developing local leaders to deliver it
  • understanding why women and girls were not taking part in physical activity
  • establishing trust with women and girls in the local community
  • breaking down community barriers
  • building financial stability.

Developing local leaders

Trafford Community Leisure Trust decided a dedicated female worker would be the best way to encourage more women and girls to take regular exercise. It appointed a part-time female participation officer in 2008, extending it to full-time six months later as numbers increased.

The female participation officer had completed the Trust's Trafford Urban Fitness Corporation (TUF*C) leadership programme. The programme trains local young people, often from disadvantaged or disaffected backgrounds, as sports leaders.

They then deliver physical activity sessions for other young people in their local community. They start as volunteers and work towards qualifications and paid work at the Trust or elsewhere in mainstream sport and leisure careers.

The programme develops young people as positive role models in the local community. This helps divert young people away from risky or offending behaviour. It has contributed to a significant reduction in anti-social behaviour.

The female participation officer had become a TUF*C coach in 2007. She then became a TUF*C leader before going on to achieve coaching and umpire qualifications in various sports.

She now mentors all the other females on the TUF*C programme and has helped them gain coaching and other qualifications. They see her as a positive role model they can follow into full-time employment.

Understanding barriers to participation

The Trust needed to understand why women and girls were not taking part in physical activity. Women and girls in the area come from many different religious and cultural backgrounds. So understanding their various requirements was an important starting point.

This was achieved by talking to individuals face-to-face on their door steps, to learn:

  • their different religious, cultural, social, domestic and personal needs
  • the activities they wanted and when they wanted them
  • what was preventing or deterring them from taking part in regular exercise.

It also involved:

  • talking to girls on the street at night to understand gang culture and find out what activities would get them off the street
  • visiting every primary school in the borough to reassure mothers and encourage them to allow their daughters to take part in activities.

Building trust

Trust had to be established by explaining to women and girls how their needs would be met and then consistently delivering what was promised.

For example:

Women-only swimming sessions at Stretford Leisure Centre pool succeeded where previous attempts had failed. This was because privacy issues were fully addressed and the sessions were led by the female participation officer – a trusted member of the local community. Some women trained to become paid swimming instructors and leisure assistants, helping to increase attendances further.

Reluctance to use Stretford Leisure Centre gym was overcome by converting a space into a women-only gym. During its first year of operation more than 200 women used the new gym regularly as members or on a ‘pay n play' basis. This made it self-financing.

Breaking down community barriers

Individuals' experiences and perspectives tended to be limited to their own ethnic group. Some people were reluctant to leave their immediate neighbourhood.

The project runs women-only sessions for mixed abilities, ages and faith rather than activities for specific groups. These attract participants representing the diversity of the local community and increases interaction between different ethnic communities.

Women and girls are now using facilities in neighbouring wards and moving around the area more freely.

Building financial sustainability

Increasing and maintaining participation from a low base requires ongoing support, but funding streams have changed throughout the project.

The Trust currently subsidises the female participation project through surplus income generated from activities in more affluent parts of the borough. Activities within the target area are generating more and more income as their popularity increases. And the women-only gym has provided an additional funding stream.

The Trust expects the project to become self-financing in two years time.

Outcomes and impact

  • Many more women and girls are now participating regularly in physical activity and will go to neighbouring wards to use sport and leisure facilities. Weekly women-only sessions at the Old Trafford Sports Barn attract 150 women. Weekly women-only swimming sessions at
  • Stretford Leisure Centre are attended by 100 women. About 110 women have become members and a similar number casual ‘pay n play' users of the women-only gym
  • Female participation in mixed ‘urban leisure' sessions has increased from six to 25 per cent
  • More than 160 young sports leaders have been trained through the TUF*C programme since 2003

All 160 have been paid by the Trafford Community Leisure for sessional work – many have used this as a springboard to permanent jobs with the Trust or other organisations.

Around 18 per cent of the trained TUF*C leaders, and 22 per cent of the leaders the Trust currently uses, are female.
The programme has helped divert young people away from risky behaviour and gang culture, and contributed to a significant reduction in anti-social behaviour.

Key learnings

Developing good relations and establishing trust with the target group has been key. This means:

  • listening to people
  • explaining what will be done
  • inviting them to come and have a look and a go
  • delivering on every commitment made.

Word of mouth has proved the most effective form of communication. That means knocking on people's doors, talking and listening. Language differences can be overcome through encouragement to come and try.

Ongoing communication provides instant feedback. This allows a quick response, so activities can be changed on a weekly basis if need be.

The female participation officer is an Old Trafford resident, and was well known in the area before her appointment. She has direct knowledge and experience of the communities she works with.

She has worked hard to understand the religious and cultural requirements of different ethnic groups. This made sure the project was firmly grounded in the local community and helped strengthen community relations.

Starting small with a pilot and building up, rather than trying to do everything at once, has made it easier to ensure the project's future financial sustainability.

What could have been done better?

Relations with the health sector could be stronger. A convincing business case has yet to be made to convince health partners about the longer-term savings from investment in targeted prevention work through physical activity.

Organisational and structural changes have also hampered efforts to build relationships and find a common language.

Next steps

Trafford Community Leisure Trust will continue to operate the female participation project. If the initial funding can be found it will be rolled out to other parts of the borough that have expressed an interest.

Further information

Bernie Jones, Chief Executive
Trafford Community Leisure Trust

The Marmot Review website

East Lincolnshire Health Profile 2011 – on the website of the Public Health Observatories


23 December 2014

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