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Sport England commits £250m for boosting activity in deprived areas

Sport England will invest £250m over the next five years to help people in about 100 of the most socially deprived areas get more exercise, and address the “manifestly unfair gap” in opportunities between rich and poor communities.

The decision, which the funding body says is a “major and unprecedented expansion of its investment in local communities”, comes after new research showing inactivity rates are double in the most deprived areas.

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The Sport England chief executive, Tim Hollingsworth, said the money – a quarter of its budget – signalled “an unashamed reprioritisation of our resources” to help those in greatest need.

“Access to sport and physical activity in England is still not close to being a level playing field,” Hollingsworth said. “Too often, people in low‑income communities don’t have access to the same facilities or opportunities as wealthier areas. This is manifestly unfair.”

According to Sport England, the most active place in the country has almost double the activity levels of the least active place (81% compared with 43%), while lifespan can vary by nine years depending on where someone lives. Hollingsworth said needs to change. “It’s very clear that we’re very good in this country in providing sport and physical activity for the majority,” he said. “But we need to devote more of our focus and energy addressing the stubborn inequality of the third of people who don’t get the 30 minutes of weekly recommended activity.”

The new investment expands on a £100m pilot scheme called the Place Partners programme, which Sport England ran in 12 of the country’s least active communities between 2017 and 2022. It worked closely with local groups and helped to fund activities such as Free Bikes in Birmingham and Beat the Street in Burnley.

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Hollingsworth said success had encouraged Sport England to invest a further £250m – an increase of £150m – over the next five years in order to increase opportunities in 80-100 new areas across the country. “This approach is not just about providing money,” he said. “It’s about how you use it. We’re not going in and saying: ‘Here’s £10m, spend it in this way.’ We’re asking: ‘What do you need?’, and working with locally trusted organisations.”

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The announcement was welcomed by the sport minister, Stuart Andrew “Our new sports strategy sets out an ambitious aim to get 3.5 million more people active by 2030 and this £250m investment from Sport England will help make that a reality,” he said. “This targeted place-based funding gives greater access to quality activities and clubs for people of all ages in areas of the country that need it most.”