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Active Partnerships National Team recruiting for CEO

A few words from YSF CEO and Active Partnerships interim CEO, Nigel Harrison:  A couple of years ago I was being interviewed on local radio about what we do at Yorkshire Sport Foundation, when eventually the presenter interrupted my ramblings about strategy, connectivity and influence with ‘.. so you do the boring bits …’ I loved that and tried to convince our comms colleagues to change our strapline to ‘YSF does the boring bits so you don’t need to’. 

Unsurprisingly and thankfully it met with complete disapproval by a team much more alive to the fact of how uninspiring that sounded, not only to everyone else but our brilliant people who were innovating on a daily basis.

Nevertheless it does have a ring of truth behind it.

Active Partnerships have been going now for over 20 years in various guises; born out of a national, top down, programme approach to sports policy – Active Sports. Through nimble leadership they morphed into ‘County Sports Partnerships’ for a number of years before settling presently on the more succinct version of ‘Active Partnerships’.

Over the years they have been bent and shaped by national strategy, often needing to quickly adapt as plaudits and critics have had their say in equal measure. At times their existence has been in debate but have persisted often within a perspective of ‘..we know we need them but not quite sure what to do with them.’

Now it feels they have finally ‘come of age’.

In an era where collaboration is queen the role of people who are able to work in the background, connecting things up, spotting gaps and overlaps, working with leaders and decision makers, creating a strong local voice and sharing the learning has never been more crucial. The ability to flip between sitting behind the scenes, putting our local partners to the forefront whilst having a strong local voice is one that needs craft and empathy. We are continually working on it and amongst the 43 there are new people with fresh energy and new approaches.

In an age led by the need for the ‘30 second  elevator pitch’ the subtleties and nuances of the work of Active Partnerships is often lost. At times we have collectively been perceived in a negative light as all looking different, being inconsistent and lacking clarity. Perhaps these points have been well founded. But where others see inconsistency we see a network of organisations created, developed and shaped by local people to local need and we should celebrate that. In our recent long term planning at YSF we saw that we meant different things to different partners, often with different relationships … and we love that. It means we are adapting to their needs in their places.

Even so, as Active Partnerships we are bound together by a our common purpose of making it easier and more enjoyable for people to be active, especially for those people where the shape of their world is stacked against them, and a role of connecting things up and supporting others to do their work well (I’m sure we express it better in strategy speak somewhere).

We are also united by ‘Uniting the Movement’;  a strategy that brought a personal ‘punch the air’ moment for its unequivocal focus on inequalities and its localism approach. Active Partnerships are confident, secure and proud of  their positioning within the Sport England family, recognising the needs of their main funders yet able to follow their independent paths. Gone has talk of parent/child relationship to that of being in it together; a testament to the current leadership within Sport England.

Many years ago we recognised the need to take our own responsibility for our development and improvement by working collectively as a network. This resulted in a small core team of people being created to help us to do so, who have done a sterling job in bringing us together and at, times, cajoling us to work as one.

Ironically, over the last two years the technologies of Covid has brought us together like never before; learning, sharing, creating joint action, supporting each other, developing joint programmes of work and coming together to create a consistent voice. Over the last six months we’ve explored and reviewed how we see the network and what we want from it. Its very existence as a core team and organisation  was put on the table as we deeply examined ourselves.

We have now come out the other side with a stronger sense of commitment and purpose to working together as a national network. Being comfortable with the notion of Active Partnerships working independently, as a collection of a few or as a whole when the time is right. We recognise the huge talent and expertise from within the network who can all take the lead from time to time instead of relying on a few at the centre of things. We also recognise our place amongst wider networks and organisations with whom we have a shared purpose.

So, today we’re looking for a CEO to lead the National Team and support our network of Active Partnerships. This will need a special person. If you like to say ‘I’ a lot, describe yourself as ‘award winning’, or like to manage big organisations with big budgets and big teams then perhaps you’re best looking elsewhere. 

We’re looking for someone who can shine a light on the fires lit from others within the Network. Someone who is as comfortable behind the scenes as they are in front of them. Someone who can be confident and at times bold. Someone who can listen, learn, share, give advice and support. Someone who can bring the collective voice and insight from the 43 to national policy and decision makers to help them with their choices. Someone who is simultaneously at the heart of things and at distance from things.

Believe me, it’s a special role – perhaps my colleagues were right, not so boring after all.

Apply now

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