Interview of John Marsden
Director, Global Active City Development, Active Well-being Initiative
2018, November 12th
What was the turning point that pushed Liverpool to elaborate an Active City Program ?
The city of Liverpool has a population of 447,000. It is one of the most deprived Municipalities in England. For many years the city had experienced high levels of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD’s) including cancers, coronary heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Data relating to the NCD’s highlighted that Liverpool had some of the highest prevalence in the whole of Europe. Much of this was due to the population making poor lifestyle choices. There was lots of evidence that regular participation in sport and physical activity could have a positive effect on physical and mental health, and could play a major role in tackling NCD’s. However anecdotal evidence suggested that participation in physical activity was low. In order to get confirmation on participation levels research was undertaken in 2004, which showed that only 18% of the population was active enough to benefit their health. Over 60% of the population were not even achieving 1 x 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. This data allied to the NCD figures persuaded the key stakeholders in the city to develop a joined up approach to the delivery of sport and physical activity, with that approach being closely aligned to health and wellbeing.
What are the most evocative results/ changes since 2005 ?
Liverpool is now the 4th most active large city in England and having previously been bottom. Liverpool has the most successful bike hire scheme in England outside of London. Over 90% of children aged under 11 can now swim a minimum of 25 metres. Over 56.000 people are now regularly using the 12 x Lifestyles Sport and Leisure centres, which are located in the most deprived neighbourhoods in the city. As a city Liverpool is now able to attract local, regional, national and international sporting events to the city. These events have legacy at their core ad are used as catalysts to increasing participation. As participation levels in sport and physical activity have steadily increased so have the aspirations of the key stakeholders and citizens of the city. The most recent target for Liverpool, as contained in the latest edition of the Active City strategy, is to be the most active city in England by 2021.
What advice would you give a city or municipality seeking to implement a similar strategy but unsure where to start ?
It is important to establish a baseline or starting point, followed by creating and implementing a cross sector strategy which has a shared vision of increasing participation in sport and physical activity. The establishment of a cross sector strategic alliance group is also recommended to allow for resources to be shared and targeted in a way that can provide maximum impact. It is essential that any interventions, which are commissioned as a part of an overall Active City approach, are evidence based. Another essential ingredient is to have an effective communications plan both internally across the key stakeholders and externally with the public in particular those who are still inactive or only partially active. It is clear that no one organisation working in isolation can tackle the growing levels of inactivity and ill health, therefore it makes absolute sense to develop partnerships, alliances and joined up ways of working behind a shared vision and key performance indicators. Any successes should be celebrated, which in turn can have the effect of encouraging other partners to engage in the Active City approach. There will also be opportunities for cities to share their experiences and examples of good practice with other like-minded cities around the world thus helping to create a global Active City movement with potentially your city being an important part of that.