A story of partnership: Sovereign Housing and Active Oxfordshire
Posted: Fri, 17 Sep 2021 09:59
(Active Reach activities and outcomes in Abingdon)
We are stronger together: a story of partnership
Jenny Bowley, Community Development Officer at Sovereign Housing, on working together with Active Oxfordshire to fight inactivity and tackle inequality through the Active Reach programme in Abingdon
It was November 2019 when I first met Lucy Tappin, we were attending the launch for a gym bus in Oxford. I was new to the role of Community Development officer for Sovereign, and was keen to be acquainted with Active Oxfordshire.
That initial meeting led to Lucy being invited to attend the South Abingdon Partners meeting a few months later. This group of local organisations covers the charity; voluntary and statutory services, all working in the Caldecott ward. The meetings quickly changed to online due to Covid restrictions, but the attendance and passion did not; in fact, the frequency was increased.
Working together to tackle inequalities: Active Reach
It was July 2020 when I first heard about Active Reach, funded through Sport England's Tackling Inequalities Fund. Active Oxfordshire and partners identified areas where Active Reach could be implemented to help people in greatest need increase activity levels, and South Abingdon was on the list. It was a quick turn around and because the Partners meeting existed we were able to contact organisations quickly. It really was the perfect fit to rally people to the idea and we soon got cracking on inviting various grassroots organisations as plans developed.
Active Reach involved several layers of application and explanation, which were led by Active Oxfordshire. My role at Sovereign was to signpost, support and navigate through the meetings, planning and involvement of the local community. While neither of us were delivering the project we were supporting the back office, a sounding board for ideas, the reassurance and connection to support the groups to fulfil their plans.
Covid was a rollercoaster. The initial plans of July were awarded funding, and by October we were ready to roll out. By this point, several groups were on board to deliver on the theme of getting people active. The £10,000 funding was focussed on four groups; ethnically diverse communities, older people, those with lifelong conditions and those from deprived communities.
Challenges of tackling inactivity during COVID-19
Then lockdown came upon us again.
The group had to adapt and extend at every turn. Adjustments were made for November's lockdown with the hope that face to face delivery would soon begin. Regular meetings facilitated by Active Oxfordshire kept everyone informed as Sport England were kept up to date, adjustments to funding being explained and end date postponed. Sovereign assisted by keeping the local partners up-to-date and bringing in new groups to help. As activity packs and online classes were planned, new groups were brought in to work with those vulnerable people who otherwise would have been missed.
Successes, challenges and learning
This project was a great partnership opportunity for those involved. It enabled the Partners meeting to be a springboard to a tangible project, bringing in external funding out of reach to most smaller organisations to support physical activity at a really challenging time. It has been wonderful to see the results of those working on it. It has also been challenging. Covid has caused many barriers to participation and has led to changes both to this project, but also to groups' abilities to open their own services. Venues that were enlisted at the beginning for those face-to-face sessions didn't take part as they remained shut, partners who were hoping to support their own clients were unable to open and so the connection was fractured. Those running these organisations were dealing with their own personal circumstances; shielding, furlough, childcare.
Covid has been a challenge for all, in so many different ways. These partnerships have enabled great opportunities to be shared in communities where they are truly needed and valued. The impact of Active Reach has been felt by the 180 people who gained support from the activities provided but also the network of organisations working together to support their community.
The joy of working with Active Oxfordshire has been sharing the challenges, supporting each other, listening and learning.
We'd like to extend our sincere thanks to Jenny and to Sovereign Housing for their incredible support!