Pride in Sport

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BBC feature: Can free leisure services get people fit?

bab-award-winningAfter hearing positive things about Be active, BBC health correspondent Nick Triggle visited Birmingham in April 2012 to see for himself just how popular and effective the scheme is.

Nick spoke to Be active members and Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, Cllr Steve Bedser to find out why towns and cities across the country are now looking to emulate Birmingham’s success.

Click on the following link for his feature:


Birmingham’s Active Parks join the fight against obesity

Active Parks logo

The team running Birmingham’s hugely successful Be active sports scheme has identified a new secret weapon in the battle of the bulge: the city’s 600 parks and open spaces.

Birmingham City Council, with the support of Birmingham Sport and Physical Activity Partnership, is launching a pilot project looking at the role the city’s open spaces can play in helping lead fitter, healthier lives.

And Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, Cllr Steve Bedser, believes tapping into the potential of the great outdoors will build on the success of the multi award-winning Be active scheme.

Officials will work with Sport England to assess the success of ‘Active Parks’ at five sites:

  1. Cotteridge Park
  2. Walkers Heath Park
  3. Moonlit & Sunset Parks
  4. Holders Lane Fields
  5. Ward End Park

Over the next six months, visitors to the five sites will be offered a wide range of free activities, including:

  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Tai Chi
  • Green Fit
  • Bushcraft
  • Gardening
  • Buggyfit
  • Netball
  • Rounders
  • Walking

Birmingham City Council assumed public health responsibilities at the start of April 2013 and obesity has been highlighted as one of the city’s major challenges.

Cllr Bedser said: “The obesity problem in Birmingham cannot be underestimated. 26% of our population is obese and that includes nearly one in four of our 10 and 11-year-olds. So we have to use every resource available to us to promote healthier and more active lifestyles throughout the city. That includes our wonderful parks and open spaces.

“We already have the Be Active programme, which has been running very successfully for more than three years helping thousands of people across Birmingham access gyms, classes and swimming for free.

“Now we’re looking at the potential to extend this fantastic programme into our many parks and open spaces. We believe these activities will attract people who may not think that indoor gyms and leisure centres are for them – or who prefer to be outdoors. Parks and open spaces are familiar, unthreatening venues, free and often very local.”

Birmingham shows you can Be active

With a shocking report showing lack of exercise is a bigger killer across the world than smoking or obesity, an award-winning scheme in Birmingham is successfully bucking the trend.

Research, published in the Lancet today, estimates that about a third of adults are not doing enough physical activity, causing 5.3m deaths a year. That equates to about one in 10 deaths from diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and breast and colon cancer. Researchers said the problem was now so bad it should be treated as a pandemic.

But Birmingham City Council Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, Cllr Steve Bedser, says the city’s Be active scheme is tackling many of the issues raised in the Lancet report.

Launched as a city-wide initiative in 2009, Be active is a groundbreaking partnership between the NHS and the local authority, offering FREE gym,swim and physical activities to all residents.

And, with over 50 activities now on offer as part of the scheme, Cllr Bedser believes the people of Birmingham have a unique opportunity to get fit and stay active.

He said: “This report comes as no surprise, but the statistics are shocking nonetheless and highlight exactly why we launched Be active with our NHS partners.

“The scheme has been a huge success over the last few years and over 350,000 people have now signed-up to Be active.

“We now offer more than 50 sports and activities, so there really is something for everyone, everyday across the city – and it’s still free.”

Since a Be active pilot project was launched in 2008, the number of physically active people in Birmingham has increased from 17.2 per cent of the population to 20 per cent.

Cllr Bedser added: “Of course there’s still room for improvement but independent analysis of Be active has shown we’re very definitely moving in the right direction.

“Not surprisingly, price is a barrier to participation, so access to free exercise has increased people’s likelihood to participate. We’re attracting hard to reach groups including women and ethnic minority communities.

“Better still, the research shows that participation on the scheme has increased participant demand for other lifestyle information such as smoking cessation and alcohol advice.”

Over 350,000 people are now registered for the scheme, meaning one in three people across Birmingham enjoy free use of their council–run leisure facilities, attending gyms, swimming pools, walking groups, and fitness classes and reaping the health and wellbeing benefits it brings.

In addition to daily swim and gym sessions at all major leisure centres across the city, the new-look Be active scheme offers tennis, bowls, basketball, fencing, gymnastics, netball, badminton, table tennis, Tai Chi, yoga, boxercise, power plates, cycling, walking and much more at leisure centres and parks across the city.


For more information contact Geoff Coleman on 0121 303 3501

Notes to Editors

Details of FREE Be active sessions across the city can be found on the new website

Photographs can be downloaded here:

Be active is a city-wide scheme, designed to help everyone increase their physical activity for free. With such a wide range of activities to choose from there is something for everyone at every leisure centre across the city, to help you lose weight, reduce the risk of illness and even boost your confidence.

Be active is available to anyone who lives in a property eligible for council tax in Birmingham. You will need to take two forms of identification with you to your local leisure facility when you join Be active. All you need to access Be active is a Leisure Card which can be accessed from your local leisure centre.

The scheme was initially called Gym for Free and was launched in February 2008 in the Ladywood Constituency to 100,000 residents as a joint initiative between NHS Heart of Birmingham tPCT and Birmingham City Council.

Gym for Free offered free swimming, fitness classes, and gym sessions to all of the residents of the constituency as long as they exercised at least 4 times per month. There was no upper limit to the number of times they could attend exercise sessions and the only other criteria was residency within the constituency.

Initially there were only 95 people across Ladywood regularly exercising on the local authorities direct debit scheme (the closest benchmark). Within 6 months there were 7,000 people on the Gym For Free scheme. Demand was through the roof and people were queuing for up to 2 hours to access sessions.

By November 2008 the scheme was rolled out to the rest of the Heart of Birmingham PCT area, some 300,000 people.

The scheme continued to prove successful and won a number of awards for tackling health inequalities and also social marketing.


  • 60% on scheme from the Black and Minority Ethnic communities. Traditionally hard to reach groups, such as Bangladeshi and Pakistani women, are over-represented.
  • Average age of people in the gyms on the scheme is 49 but in the private gyms is 29.
  • In those signing up to the scheme:
  • 50% overweight or obese.
  • 50% had raised blood pressure.
  • 25% smoke.
  • 20% said health poor or very poor.
  • 20% suffered extreme/moderate anxiety and depression.
  • This means that those communities with the biggest health gain to make are the ones using the scheme the most.
  • 74.3% of users were not previously a member of a leisure centre, gym, or swimming pool before joining. ensure as much access to the community as possible.

Be active achieves Olympic 2012 recognition

bab-award-winningBe active – the award winning leisure scheme for the city of Birmingham – has been granted the ‘Inspire Mark’ – the badge of the London 2012 Inspire programme.

The London 2012 Inspire programme recognises innovative and exceptional projects that are directly inspired by the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Be active – a partnership scheme of the NHS and the City Council – achieved this award as recognition for its achievements in providing free leisure for all Birmingham city residents, offering exercise classes, gym use and swimming across the city centre.

Seb Coe, Chair, London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games said: “The Inspire programme is ensuring the legacy of the 2012 Games starts now as projects like Be Active are enabling people to in the city of Birmingham to make positive life changes.”

Saleha Williams, Head of the London 2012 Inspire Programme, who presented the Inspire award said “We promised to make the London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games, everyone’s Games, no matter where in the UK they may be. The Birmingham Be Active project, is a fabulous example of a project genuinely inspired by the Olympics Games, enabling people outside of London, across the entire City of Birmingham to connect to the London2012 Games. A thoroughly deserved award.”

Councillor Alan Rudge, accepting the award on behalf of the NHS and the City Council, said: “We can’t all be Olympic athletes but we can all benefit from regular exercise and adopt a healthier lifestyle.
“One in three Birmingham residents has done just that through the Be Active scheme – a unique partnership between Birmingham City Council and the NHS. We’re delighted Be Active has been granted the Inspire Mark and the scheme has most definitely inspired people across the city.”

Ranjit Sondhi, Chairman of the Heart of Birmingham Teaching Primary Care Trust recognises the importance of such a high profile award: “This is a fantastic achievement for Be active, and clearly sets it up there as a scheme which delivers what it set out to achieve – free leisure access for all who live in Birmingham. We are delighted with this latest award and to seeing Be active go from strength to strength.”


* Be active is a free scheme available to all Birmingham residents who pay their council tax to Birmingham City Council. Be active participants can take part in free swimming, exercise classes or the gym at any Council-run leisure centre during off-peak hours, which may vary according to each centre. Please contact your local leisure centre for more information.

For more information, please contact:

  • Anna Donaldson, Heart of Birmingham Teaching PCT.  Tel: 0121 255 0875 or 07595 088316
  • Geoff Coleman, Birmingham City Council Tel: 0121 303 3502

Notes to editors

The Inspire programme is run by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. It is an opportunity for everyone to be a part of the London 2012 games – a broad participation programme spanning sport participation, education, sustainability, volunteering, and business opportunities and skills. New opportunities are being created to inspire young people and encourage the whole of the UK to join in .

Be active is sponsored by the Birmingham Health and Wellbeing Partnership, made up of Birmingham City Council and the three Birmingham NHS primary care trusts – Heart of Birmingham teaching Primary Care Trust, NHS South Birmingham and NHS Birmingham East and North. It also supports the national ‘Change 4 Life’ programme.

The Be active scheme is part funded by Be Birmingham’s Working Neighbourhoods fund and aims to get people to change their lifestyle, whilst improving their health.

Be active aims:

  • Increase the number of people who regularly take part in active recreation and sport – Move from 17% to 20% of the adult population (an additional 23,000 people) being active at least three times a week
  • Improve the mental and physical health of those who take part in physical activity;
  • Promote healthy eating and enable more people to maintain a normal body weight;
  • Reduce early death and disability from chronic diseases by promoting physical activity and improving cardiovascular fitness among those who experience the most inequality in health;
  • Provide opportunities for employment, volunteering and youth inclusion;
  • Demonstrate effective partnership working to achieve better outcomes.

Be active achievements:

  • Over 300,000 people now on the scheme i.e. 1 in 3 Birmingham residents
  • Attendance at gym, fitness classes and swimming is up by 10% on the last year
  • Hardest to reach groups participating in large numbers including Bangladeshi and Pakistani women.
  • Lifestyle advice now being offered in leisure centres
  • A range of classes and additional activities now on offer to suit local needs
  • 38 FTE posts now created through its lifetime, primarily within leisure
  • 22 new full time leisure posts created from the increased demand
  • Over £500,000 of gym refurbishments including the city’s first women’s only gym

Achieved the following awards:

  • LGC Health & Wellbeing award 2009
  • AHC Social marketing award 2009
  • AHC overall award for best social  marketing 2009
  • Guardian health inequalities award 2009
  • Guardian overall winner award 2009
  • Health Service Journal Best Social Marketing award 2009
  • Health Service Journal secretary of state award for excellence in healthcare management 2009
  • LGC reputation award; social  marketing 2010
  • World Leisure Innovation Award

Equal split between men / women

Average of 1,200 new sign ups per week

When asked what the biggest barrier to exercise was, 40% of respondents said cost

Video case study :

Roselyn Mighty from Nechells weighed 22 stone when she signed up to the Be active scheme. She said ; “I was very heavy, very lazy. Didn’t do much at home except eat, drink, sleep and watch TV. That’s all I did. Joining the scheme has made me healthier. I’ve lost quite a bit of weight and I’m happier within myself. I lost over eight stone and that’s thanks to being on the Be active scheme.”

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