Health and Sport Committee
Meeting date: Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Agenda: Child Protection in Sport, Sport for Everyone
Sport for Everyone
Agenda item 2 is an opportunity for everyone to discuss our recent fact-finding visits for the sport for everyone inquiry. On Monday 27 February, a number of members visited Aviemore primary school and community centre, Kingussie high school and the Badenoch centre, all in the Highlands, while other members went to Easterhouse and Drumchapel in Glasgow.
In Easterhouse, we met people who experience barriers to participation in sport, visited the Phoenix community centre, which is a largely self-funded operation, and then went on to the Drumchapel community hub. The following day, members were in Muirhouse in Edinburgh for a session with people who experience barriers to sport, while others attended the Spartans Community Football Academy. First of all, I thank the people in the communities who assisted us and facilitated our visits, which were very good. All the people who participated in our discussions certainly gave us a lot of food for thought.
I invite comments from members to allow us to put on the record themes for our inquiry that emerged from our visits.
Miles Briggs, Maree Todd and I went to Aviemore and Kingussie. I record my thanks to the clerks for organising the visits and to the organisations that we met—High Life Highland and the people who work in the community sports hub, Aviemore primary school and Kingussie high school.
I do not want to take up too much time, but I will highlight some issues that emerged. There is, for example, an issue about sports participation in rural areas, where community identities are perhaps stronger than they are in very urban areas, and the extent to which the great work that we saw in the Highland Council area could be transferred to a metropolitan or urban setting.
It also struck me very much that if there is pressure on funding—which there is—we should emphasise participation in sport rather than elite sport and high performance. The clubs that we spoke to said, “Look—it’s more important to get people involved, and we clubs will pick up the high performers as they come through the system.” That is an important point to make.
I do not know whether this was reflected in Easterhouse, but it is obvious that there are some key individuals upon whom a lot sits. For instance, the community sports hub officers who work for High Life Highland are obviously instrumental in keeping all the balls in the air, as it were. I hope that, if there are funding pressures, the powers that be recognise the importance of those individuals, especially given that a lot of organisations rely on volunteers.11:30
The guys up in Kingussie and Aviemore were keen to highlight how hard they work on making it happen. We were awestruck by how great the co-operation is between clubs, the local authority, education and the health service. It is really quite impressive.
The point is regularly made to the guys in Kingussie and Aviemore that what they do could not be done in the central belt and that it is easy for them in the Highlands, but that underacknowledges how hard they work at what they do. They also said that some things could easily be done in every school in Scotland. For example, they had a sports day in Kingussie to which they invited all the local clubs in order to give everyone a taster of the various sports that are available in the area. Every school in Scotland could do that, if it had the will. One of the things that has made a difference in Kingussie in providing the will is that the high school’s headmaster clearly recognises the importance of participation in sport to attainment, and values it. That could happen in any school in Scotland.
I would like to touch on some of the points that Maree Todd and Donald Cameron have made. It was fantastic to see the passion of every person we met—especially the two community sports hub officers, who kept being referred to as the glue that holds everything together. There is concern that they might, if there are budget restraints in the future, be under pressure to go. We should address the fact that all the good work could be in jeopardy.
I was also hugely impressed by the youth leaders. All three of us tried line dancing, with varying degrees of success. The children get more out of the classes because they are led by young people. That represents an opportunity for all schools across Scotland to increase the amount of exercise that takes place during the school day.
Our visit to Spartans Community Football Academy raised an issue that will be of growing importance in the future: what happens to children when they are not at school during the summer months? One of the biggest issues that I took from the visit was the holiday hunger for sport that arises and the lack of access to facilities. We ought to consider whether the school estate should be open during the summer to meet that need.
I attended the visit to the Muirhouse millennium centre, which happens to be in my constituency. We met a number of local residents who declared themselves not to be engaged in sport in any way. Over a series of discussions with those residents, we tried to unpack what are the barriers to their participation. I am sure that I speak for colleagues who were also on the visit when I say that I was quite surprised that what came out in our discussion was that embarrassment is the single biggest inhibiting factor. I expected factors such as cost, lack of availability and inconvenience to be raised, but more than a handful of the people whom I spoke to cited embarrassment as being the key inhibitor to their getting involved. I thought that that was very telling and wonder whether it could change our approach. Perhaps we could drill down into that particular barrier.
In the first session on the Easterhouse visit, we met people who are probably furthest from taking part in sport. I heard from a woman who said that the feeling that she had to put on a full face of make-up and her best Lycra before she could get herself into the gym, where everyone would be staring at everyone else, means that she would prefer to do something more relaxed.
In the first session, I felt that the people had real barriers, some of which were the ones that we hear about time and again—for example, cost and time. However, a barrier that I had not heard about previously was people’s concern about hurting or injuring themselves and then missing work because of that. That was a new one to me. People are concerned that they would not be able to access physiotherapy and that they could be out of action for months. The people in that group had real difficulty engaging. There was a man there who has epilepsy and arthritis, but even he is able to play snooker and pool. The social side is massively important.
On the rest of the day, the thing that struck me when we went to visit the chap in Easterhouse was that he felt like a lone ranger to me, and I could not decide whether he actually wanted help or if he was slightly resistant to it. I do not know what others thought about that. By the way, Neil Findlay and I played table tennis—
Yes—badly. I could not decide whether that chap is reluctant to accept help because he has put so much into the centre and does not want it to be spoiled or lost.
We saw the traditional community hub in the afternoon, which was really impressive. I have met Terry the table tennis player before. There are real characters in those situations: everything seems to hinge around one person. It would be interesting to see what would happen if they were not there. Support is clearly needed.
The gentleman at the Phoenix centre in Easterhouse is a remarkable man, in terms of his drive and energy. He has single-handedly driven that whole project to the point where it is just about to come to absolute fruition and be a centre that—Miles Briggs mentioned this—is open and accessible outside school hours. He has to be commended for the amount of work that he has done.
The conversation in Easterhouse about difficulties in accessing sport was fascinating. Like Alison Johnstone, I heard differing views about why it is difficult to access sport. Some people said that, if they had a buddy with them, they might feel more reassured about going into a gym or a sports centre that they had not accessed before. It is quite daunting going into that environment.
In the afternoon, at Drumchapel sports hub, we heard that a link worker from one of the deep-end general practices had started up a group to help women who are suffering from mild to moderate depression, agoraphobia and anxiety and who are not getting out of the house or socialising. Although it did not have a sports focus, a group was set up in the sports hub to get those ladies into a group setting and encourage them to socialise and talk about their problems and issues. It has grown into a tennis club, which people spoke about with enthusiasm; they said that it has been a motivating factor and has helped them to get back on their feet and to get out and re-engage with society. It has reduced their contact with health services, because they have been accessing sport and socialising. There are real lessons to be learned—particularly as the roll-out of link workers continues throughout the country over the next few years—about how the role can be utilised.
A number of things came up on the visits in Glasgow. There is a long list of issues, including people’s lifestyles and people being too busy trying to make ends meet and not having spare cash to spend on leisure activities for themselves or their families. There were a lot of points made about health, cost, social isolation, gender issues and transport as well as about wider societal issues around housing, environment and territorialism.
The point about the individual anchor people is key. We can see that, if one or two people in some groups fell under a bus, the groups might wobble to the point of falling over. Although some groups have lots of individuals who would, I hope, take up the baton, that is a concern. That situation will be repeated across the country in a number of organisations.
Particularly in Drumchapel, the social aspect of belonging to something came out. Participation is not necessarily about wanting to be the next Andy Murray or whoever; it is about just being part of something and enjoying even just watching sport taking place. Being among both young people and older people is another significant issue.
I was struck by the strong relationships with Glasgow Life through its sports coaches and active schools co-ordinators. Maree Todd, I think, made a similar point about the Highlands. That is good, but it links to the issue of local government funding, which was raised repeatedly. There are partnerships with local government, but they are getting more precarious.
Those were my observations in two minutes.
On that point, convener, one thing that the people whom we spoke to in the Highlands do to maximise what they get for their money—they said that it could happen across the country—is use young leaders to deliver sports courses and things like that. Children at higher level in school get the chance to take on leadership roles and get accreditation for that work. In essence, they provide a free resource to the organisation by delivering classes. The people are being incredibly innovative. We saw from the written evidence a couple of weeks ago that young kids at school are delivering dance courses by videoconference to islands. It is incredible—people up north face the same resource challenges as others, but are doing something really creative about it.
We have captured lots of information from the visits, and we have reflected on some of the themes. The visits were certainly helpful in informing our work, which we will continue over the next few weeks.
As agreed, we now move into private session.11:41 Meeting continued in private until 11:59.
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