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Active Family Challenge (Bristol City Council

The project context

The Active Family Challenge was set up to encourage children away from the TV and computer and increase their physical activity levels. It was also designed to provide research for Bristol City Council into gaps in services. It aimed to find out whether focusing on the whole family would increase activity.

Overview of the project

The Active Family Challenge (AFC) was a 12-week pilot project. Families in Easton, St Pauls, Henbury and Knowle (Bristol) were invited to sign-up to the project in January and February 2010. In total, 21 families volunteered to take part.

Participating families had an initial consultation at home, followed by a second consultation at a community or sports ands leisure centre. They attended a consultation in the community with an exercise consultant to explore their current activity levels and their interests and goals. They were then taken to visit local leisure facilities complete a monthly activity plan and record their daily activity levels.

Over the next 12 weeks of the challenge, families took part in a variety of activities including badminton, football, climbing, exercise classes, swimming, walking and gymnastics. The 12-week challenge closed with a celebration event and prizes. Over the next 12 months, Bristol City Council and a researcher fellow from Bristol University gathered quantitative and qualitative data to measure the project's impact.

The Theory of Change (what should happen)

Data from Bristol University suggested that families were active in isolation but not together. Research has also shown that high levels of activity within families and at school are likely to encourage healthy eating habits in adolescence and beyond.

The project is based on providing families with personal support as well as activity opportunities and information. This will encourage them to increase their activity levels, promoting health outcomes and behavioural change.

What success will look like?

Successful outcomes over 12 months will include:

  • an increase in activity levels from baseline figures
  • an improvement in anthropometric measurements, such as body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, weight and resting heart rates for participants, as well as an improved perception of their health and wellbeing
  • positive changes in family behaviour, encouraging them to spend time together in order to improve fitness levels
  • increased media coverage locally and nationally
  • the introduction of a Sports and Leisure Management (SLM) family membership card
  • roll-out of the scheme nationally.

Measuring the difference

A combination of quantitative data on anthropometric measures and qualitative information has been collected before, during and after the challenge and after six months. At the end of 12 months, further data will be collected. In order to ensure good, consistent data, the same instructor took the same measurements at each stage.

The project is working with Bristol University and NHS Bristol to analyse statistics. Meanwhile a researcher is undertaking qualitative interviews to support and illustrate the findings. Bristol City Council will produce a report at the end of the 12 months.

The challenges

When families signed up to the project, not everyone in the ‘family unit' was interested in becoming more active. This has made coordinating activities more difficult. Other problems include:

  • difficulties gaining regular access with participating families
  • the extra levels of support some families require
  • poor attendance at organised events
  • confusion with information given out by partners involved and communication problems between families.


This is a one year evaluation lasting until 2011, so results represent a work in progress.
Short term data suggests that activity levels do increase. Family members have joined gyms and exercise classes, purchased bikes and taken part in Sports

Relief races together. Quantitative data on anthropometric measures thus far shows mixed results.
Of four families analysed, about a third of participants have seen their blood pressure, weight and BMI decrease. However, these figures have increased or remained unchanged for the remainder.

An un-anticipated benefit has been that families have reported finding out more about their community and local activities.

Wider impact

At this stage, Bristol City Council is considering new ideas and adaptations. These include improving communication and contact with families through text messages and a Facebook page.

These boost interest in fitness by encouraging children to “bring a buddy” and developing an all-family activity and working to increase families' knowledge of local activities.

In terms of methodology, evaluation tools will be transferable to other team members, particularly in a forthcoming child weight management project.

Personal learning

“With regards to the action learning sets I feel they helped me with ideas and methods, which have been out in to practice in other projects, greater evaluation. In terms of the project, lessons have been learned about partnerships, human resources and project planning.”