Sport action zones: empowering local communities? The regional manifestation of a national initiative

Thursday, 09 August 2007 00:00 Wheatley. L.R. eTheses

In response to the Social Exclusion Unit's Policy Action Team 10 (1999), Sport Action Zones (SAZs) were launched in 2000 as Sport England's attempt to create an effective and sustainable sporting infrastructure in areas of high economic and social deprivation, ensuring more equitable participation in sport (Sport England, 2003a).

Such an initiative was supported by the firm belief that although sport and physical activity could not in themselves prevent or eradicate social exclusion (Pitter and Andrews, 1997), they were one potential means of positively affecting health, education and crime (PAT 10, 1999; Farrell and Shields, 2002; Sandford et al., 2006).

It is essential to adopt a holistic approach that concentrates on those problems experienced by individuals engaged in a physical activity intervention (the context), rather than the intervention itself. This is a consequence of the fact that any quest to abolish dimensions of social exclusion will involve a plethora of complex associations and factors which create a myriad of outcomes (Coalter et al., 2000).

Using hybrid grounded theory as the theoretical underpinning, this study investigated over three years (2002-2005) the implementation of four projects within the Wear Valley SAZ in the north-east of England: Walking the Way to Health; Community Physical Activity Coordinators; Positive Futures; Modem Apprentices.

Adopting an internal relative ontology and a subjective epistemology, case study methodology was employed in conjunction with participant observation, questionnaires, focus groups and interviews.

Key themes emerged from the qualitative analysis of data, facilitating a deeper understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the Sport Action Zone, and of the individuals who engaged with it.

The Wear Valley SAZ was seen to positively impact upon health, education, and crime. Nevertheless, the extent of this contribution to social inclusion was limited as it failed to adequately engage with those at greatest risk of social exclusion.

Sport Action Zones have the potential to contribute significantly to social inclusion in areas of high socioeconomic deprivation, but this impact will be determined by the extent of consideration given to both the context within which the intervention is to exist and the potential mechanisms responsible for change. Moreover, to be successful, any such intervention must (at the design stage) be cognisant of the interrelationships between: physical activity determinants, notions of empowerment, attitude towards physical activity, and sustainability of participation. These are fundamental intervention precursors required to maximise those positive impacts upon health, education, and crime. Furthermore, as the complexity of the multiple risk factors associated with social exclusion inevitably lead to delays in affecting significant change, allowing time to address individual risk factors will increase the probability of creating a more effective and sustainable sporting infrastructure, particularly in areas of high socioeconomic deprivation.



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