Will it still be Zoom workouts in 2031?

What will sport and activity in England look like in 2031? That’s what Sport England has been looking at, and the future looks pretty encouraging for cycling, says Jenny Box, Cycling UK's head of development

Zoom workouts and Joe Wicks’ online PE classes may be some lasting memories of how we got our exercise in 2020, helping us to keep active while being urged to stay at home, but those won’t be a lasting legacy of Covid-19, judging by Sport England’s new 10-year strategy, Uniting the Movement.

The pandemic has reinforced and exacerbated inequalities around income and ethnicity. Sport England – the organisation responsible for distributing funds and overseeing strategy to get more people active in England – has made the drive to tackle the inequalities restricting ability to be active one of the cornerstones of its vision for the future.

Sport and activity are keystones to the nation’s health, well-being and economy in the future, and if Sport England has its way, we can be sure come the future we won’t be standing still.

If Sport England has its way, we can be sure come the future we won’t be standing still

Jenny Box

This strategy sets out how lives and communities can be transformed through sport and physical activity and taps into a lot of the work Cycling UK already does, whether through our project work such as the Big Bike Revival or our campaigning to make our street and cityscapes places for people, not motor vehicles.

This strategy comes at the right time, and if its ambitions are delivered could well be the vaccine to that other deadly disease that plagues the UK’s population – not the coronavirus, but inactivity.

Treating inactivity-related illnesses costs the NHS £5.1bn a year and causes around 37,000 preventable premature deaths every year among people aged between 40 and 79.

Unlike the other disease we’re all at risk of, inactivity has a cure that don't we have to wait in line for. The remedy is simple, free and available to us all.

However, with inactivity increasingly embedded into modern life, changing behaviour developed over decades and getting England moving again isn’t a simple task and requires a holistic approach which doesn’t just centre on the sports field but in our communities, our experiences and the environment we live and move through.

Changing behaviour developed over decades and getting England moving again isn’t a simple task and requires a holistic approach which doesn’t just centre on the sports field

Jenny Box

Fortunately, that’s exactly what the Sport England strategy looks to do. It identifies five key points which need to be tackled to achieve real change and increase opportunities to be physically active, and in each of them cycling and Cycling UK can play a key role:

  • recover and reinvent
  • connect communities
  • provide positive experiences for children and young people
  • connect health and well-being
  • ensure active environments

Looking at each of these points, its clear cycling has a role to play.

As the UK’s national cycling charity, our projects like the Big Bike Revival and Community Cycle Clubs have been all about connecting and building communities through local cycle hubs.

With the multiple lockdowns we have endured, we have had to adapt constantly, not just to the changing circumstances but also to make sure the work we do is relevant and inclusive.

For many people, cycling is tied up with joyful memories as a child: first learning to ride and discovering the freedom it brings. From work on projects such as Play Together on Pedals in Glasgow and SE Scotland to our support with the Bikeability programme, and the way our clubs and members introduce cycling to the next generation, so much of our work, whether we realise it or not, is building foundations for the future.

And at a time when daily exercise is often our only release, building on the positive experiences families have had through cycling and spending time outdoors has shown the real connection there is between our physical and mental well-being.

However, for all these benefits to realise their full potential, we need to make the country a safe and welcoming place, and ensure we don’t design out opportunities to cycle or walk from the start.

For too long, when a new housing development or commercial centre was built, it was common practice to omit or drop facilities that made walking or cycling easier. If these developments are centred on making it easier to drive and remove active options, then the government cannot be surprised if people take the path of least resistance and choose cars, with the consequence that inactivity blooms.

That has to change. And it is so encouraging seeing Sport England recognise this very issue, which has been at the forefront of Cycling UK’s campaigning on for so long. It can only spell good things for our future – not just cycling but for the country’s health, economy and environment.

For it shows that now, right at the very top of decision-making, there is recognition that to change the way we live and move – to level up the country to borrow the buzz phrase – then there needs to be collaboration across government, non-governmental organisations and charities, including Cycling UK.

It was precisely the point made by our chief executive, Sarah Michell, last week when she gave evidence to the House of Lords select committee on sport and recreation – collaboration is key to a better future.

And with Sport England’s new strategy, it’s a future we’re keen to help make a reality.