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(2020 – 2022)

Logo for County Durham Sport
Logo for County Durham Sport


Active Places is a Sport England funded pilot designed to build healthier, more active communities in Shildon and the Deerness Valley areas of County Durham. Shildon is in the top 20% most deprived areas nationally, with inactivity estimated to be somewhere between 30% – 48% (Sport England Local Insight Profile 2019). Parts of the Deerness Valley are in the top 30% deprived areas nationally and 22% of residents are living with a long-term health condition or disability (compared to 18% nationally; Sport England Local Insight Profile 2019). We aim to support residents of these communities to increase and sustain their activity levels, to benefit from improved physical and mental wellbeing, and to reduce social isolation.

Working collaboratively with partners, the Active Places pilot has adopted an innovative, place-based approach to tackling inequality, with a particular focus on people doing less than 30mins physical activity per week. We take a whole-systems, evidence-based perspective to co-create and co-deliver new approaches to tackling inactivity.


Outcomes – Develop Shared Local Strategic Outcomes for Your Place

Working with a range of organisations from the public, private, voluntary and community sectors, it is hoped that the Active Places pilot will increase and sustain activity levels for those who are least active – as well as improve wellbeing and reduce social isolation. In addition, a key goal is to increase awareness of the importance of physical activity and the opportunities for residents to take part in a range of accessible and appropriate activities. Upskilling local providers with the knowledge and skills to motivate residents is another important outcome that will empower local people to make positive life choices.

Insight – Understand Your Community and Your Place

We wanted to develop an understanding of our places (assets, networks, partnerships and provision) and an understanding of our people (who were we trying to reach and what are their needs). To do this, our insight work progressed in three phases: Phase 1 Review of Existing Evidence (including 20+ local and national data sources, existing good practice, and mapping existing local provision); Phase 2 Survey (based on the Sport England Active Lives survey, received over 270 responses); Phase 3 Focus Groups and 1-2-1 drop-ins (engaged over 80 people).

The partnership want to develop further insight in relation to;

  • Attitudes towards physical activity, including perceptions of existing local provision
  • Factors affecting participation (barriers, motivators and enablers, capability)
  • Awareness and relevance of existing provision
  • Types of activities and programmes most likely to engage them
  • People and networks most likely to influence their attitudes and behaviours
  • Key messages, communication channels and incentives they are most likely to respond to
  • Changes required to the workforce
  • Changes required to policy and ‘the system’

Interventions – Identify How the Outcomes Can be Achieved Sustainably

Some of the most exciting interventions included the installation of outdoor Parkletics gym equipment at Hackworth Park (Shildon) and training 6 Parkletics champions. In the Deerness Valley, physical repair/improvement works were carried out on walking routes and way markers were installed to make public footpaths more accessible. On some routes, people counters were installed to measure footfall. We developed and launched the Mobile Adventures trails app to pilot the use of technology as a way of encouraging our target audience to be active. We also developed the ‘Active Friends’ training programme to establish a network of locally trusted ‘Active Friends’ to influence, motivate and inspire their peers to be active.

These interventions were decided based on our learning from the insight phase of the project and covered: Workforce development; Marketing; Behaviour change / Lifestyle support; Physical environment and infrastructure; and Opportunities to participate.

Commitment – Secure Investment Commitment to Outcome Delivery

Investment was secured through Sport England and the pilot is also supported through in-kind and financial contributions from the partnership organisations.

Evaluation – Understand the Impact of Your Work

We are evaluating the project on an ongoing basis. A Masters by Research student from Durham University is working on our evaluation to determine ‘what works for whom in what circumstances and why?’. This will involve qualitative data collection (e.g. from stakeholder interviews), analysing the data, and disseminating the findings and learning to relevant stakeholders to inform future approaches to tackling inactivity. Through our evaluation, we hope to gain a greater understanding of how system change can be created in the context of a complex issue like inequality in physical activity.


Click on the blocks below to read case studies.

Logo for County Durham Sport


County Durham Sport distributed Sport England funding to organisations and community groups to keep people active in the COVID 19 lockdown and recovery stages.


Durham County Council took part in a national Sport England funded pilot to get more people swimming, more often.


Researcher from Durham University worked with patients, commissioners and providers through Active Northumberland to understand how we can improve exercise referral provision.


Durham County Council project designed to increase and sustain activity levels of the least active populations within the Durham Dales.


Durham County Council work closely with the Wellbeing for Life service, Public Health and Social Prescribing Link Workers to support the health and wellbeing of local people.