The role of Stocksbridge Leisure Centre in its community could have been very different during lockdown had it not been for the tackling inequalities funding it received.
That’s accroding to Lee Hible, Assistant Centre Manager at Stocksbridge Leisure Centre, as we reflected on the impact of the £5,000 received in the middle of 2020.
The Tackling Inequalities Fund formed part of Sport England’s £270 million support package to help the sport and physical activity sector through the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis, and was distributed in South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire by our team at Yorkshire Sport Foundation.
Stocksbridge is a small community of around 15,000 people, located in the steep-sided valley of the Little Don River. It is twenty minutes by bus to Sheffield city centre, with just two buses an hour, meaning the community can often feel isolated from the rest of the city.
“We are isolated, and it’s sometimes a bit of a kick in the teeth when there’s nothing available locally to us and we have to self-fund the same projects that are happening elsewhere, when we know our area needs that as well.
“The simplicity of the process and knowing that we would be able to apply for it and likely be successful was like a weight off our shoulders.
“It gave us the opportunity as a service to ensure we could carry on those sessions for those who could attend virtually. The impact for the members is they still had someone to interact with, to speak to and take part in physical activity.
“In a nutshell, we wouldn’t have been able to do things online. We didn’t have Zoom licenses and all our staff were on furlough so we could minimise costs for our leisure centre with it being shut. It’s meant we could keep running activities throughout.
“We had the staff members in place to do the sessions, but we wouldn’t have had the funds to pay them to do the session. It’s allowed us to come back stronger, and all our sessions are fully booked now.”
The centre provided chair aerobics classes, pilates sessions and more informal ‘coffee and chat’ online get togethers so that members near and far could remain connected as much as physically active.
Lee believes the importance of an activity being provided by someone within a community was important, even if it was online, and feels the benefits have been felt by the centre as restrictions begin to ease.
“We had new people that came to the sessions. One person moved to help their isolated parents in Scotland, but the online sessions meant they could still do it even being so far from home. They probably appreciated it more than anyone else because they still knew us, they knew who was leading the session. It probably put them at ease rather than just joining any other YouTube session.
“We’re trying to become more of a health and wellbeing centre and hub for the area of Stocksbridge and Upper Don. Any activities that we can offer from the leisure centre is great, but if not then we’ll run them from within the community. This has ticked both boxes because it has been online and on-site.
“From the customer point of view, keeping in touch with our members and them having someone known, local and trusted to take part in sessions with was important. Even though some were new participants to us, they might have been doing things elsewhere, but were only able to do it online with us. As a result of that, they now come to our session’s in-person.
“Even when people didn’t really feel like taking part, they were still there just to have a chat. We all know they could have just done anything on YouTube. But seeing that familiar face and having the chance to have the rapport with the instructor because it was a small class with local people, the mental benefits have probably outweighed the physical.
“We’re busier than we were pre-Covid, so it has had a massive impact.”