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Cheshire West and Chester – supporting women and girls to be more physically active

Women and girls are typically less active than their male counterparts, with four in 10 women not active enough to ensure they get the full benefits of physical activity. Yet research suggest that women benefit more than men from physical activity.


Background

In Cheshire West and Chester, we wanted to address this imbalance, recognising women and girls as a priority group of the physical activity partnership. By working together, we identified key themes to focus on, to break down the barriers to physical activity for this target group.

The challenge

Local and national insight has highlighted the barriers that women and girls face in being physically active, whether through sport, leisure or independent exercise. These range from parents not viewing sport as important for daughters as for sons, to body confidence issues, feeling unsafe and the additional unpaid work which females often have to take on, among many others.

In recent years, we have seen a decline in the proportion of women who are active and fairly active (according to the Active Lives survey) and an increase in the proportion of women who are inactive. When it comes to girls, local and national physical activity data suggests that our children and young people are becoming less active, with a significant reduction in physical activity by the time girls reach secondary school.

There are many initiatives which exist both locally and nationally to increase female participation in sport and physical activity, and this has been shown to be effective in the places, and with the people, it reaches. However, the reach and impact is inconsistent.

Our aim was to develop, expand and boost the excellent work going on locally and nationally to increase participation of women and girls in organised sport and physical activity.

In early 2023, taking a whole system approach, we brought together partners from across Cheshire West and Chester to get a local perspective on female physical activity, particularly focused on identifying the barriers and opportunities. What was set out to be a small, focused workshop with some key short-term actions, helped us to identify that this area of work necessitated a much larger focus.

To develop this work further we brought together over 30 partners from across the borough to discuss the most pressing issues and map out the particular barriers to physical activity and sport and, to explore the opportunities to work together, remove barriers, and share and put in place, good practice.

What was clear was that many partners were doing lots of positive work, but it was not being shared effectively with others. To address this, a working group was formed with the focus on connecting this work and supporting women and girls in Cheshire West and Chester to be more physically active.

The solution

Using insight from the local workshops, we identified eight themes which would form an initial workplan: communications, access, affordability, safety, body image, role models/leadership, why we are active, and supporting those who are least active. 

Across these themes, the idea was to set the foundations and get the very basic things right. Examples included:

  • Communications: we agreed to explore ways to make it easier for women and girls to find activities which interest them. During the workshops we were also made aware of a number of toolkits which have been developed locally to support female activity, e.g., PE toolkit for schools. We agreed that sharing these toolkits with other organisations who can embed these in their settings and projects could help to ensure a consistent and equitable approach. 
  • Body image: we agreed to start with some basic actions included linking into the existing work around weight stigma, whilst also ensuring that partners were mindful to use inclusive imagery, supportive positive body image and ensuring people with protected characteristics are included in communications. We are also exploring CPD training for school staff to support this theme.

The impact

The work is still in its infancy but membership of the working group and interest in this area of work is growing. One key planned output of the working group is the launch of a ‘joyful movement campaign’. This will take place in June 2024, and whilst not solely focused on women and girls, has been designed with this particular group in mind.

The campaign will encourage residents to move in ways and focus on enjoyment and what makes them feel good, without pressure, or claims that it will improve health, help lose weight or live longer. Just moving because it makes you feel good.

How is the new approach being sustained?

The women and girls' work is a key priority for the Eat Well Be Active Partnership. A working group of very engaged partners which include NHS, local authority, Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, local sports clubs and the third sector is driving this work forwards. Once the basics have been achieved and we have an equitable foundation to build upon, we will start to build on this work, across the themes to make even more impact. 

Lessons learned

There is a lot of great work going on to support this agenda, it is important to coordinate, working towards a whole system approach to bringing this all together.

Getting the basics right across the board is essential - communications, access, affordability, safety, body image, role models/leadership, why we are active, and supporting those who are least active.

Effective communication and sharing information at all levels is important to ensure a joined-up approach and shared learning.