Active Communities Learning Festival

The Active Communities programme

The Active Communities programme has been running for nearly six years across six of the most deprived areas in Birmingham and Solihull. It was funded as the Birmingham and Solihull Local Delivery Pilot (LDP) by Sport England, with the aim of increasing physical activity in those deprived communities that are statistically least likely to be active. In addition to testing interventions, we were also interested to see if there was a link between physical and civic activity.

The programme wanted to provide opportunities for those who have been traditionally left behind, and to remove barriers they faced to physical and civic activity by co-creating solutions; working with, rather than doing to. The intention was always to build on the learning from the pilot and demonstrate scalability in any positive results. This is why we are now embarking on the Learning Festival.

Learning Festival

The Active Communities Learning Festival will share all the key lessons from the programme over a six month period, starting in October. This will be done through a series of courses, sharing days and online resources. There will also be a longer leadership course designed for those who want to have more impact on the systems in which they work. Attendees can learn with us, for free, and as they prefer, by dipping their toe into those briefings and speed learning sessions, or by taking more time on the longer options, the choice is theirs.

The pilot placed communities at the heart of what we do. We have been working with more than 200 community organisations, religious institutions, and grassroots leaders. We wanted to do things differently, interventions were co-designed and co-produced to create sustainable and impactful change. There has been a focus on all factors contributing to deprivations, including systemic barriers, mental health and wellbeing challenges, and environmental factors. New networks have grown from this knowledge – the Food Justice Network, and Clean Air Justice Network among them.

It is increasingly clear that the scale and speed of our response to the challenges our communities face requires great ideas alongside a commitment to work differently. We have learnt the values needed for this work are an open heart, open mind and open will, and our learning has been informed by the work of Otto Scharmer, author of Theory U. These values will inform the festival, with the courses delivered in community settings by those who have worked on the learning, as well as external experts from some of the wider disciplines informing it.

The Learning Festival is free to attend, funded and supported by Active Communities and Sport England. We are keen to share and amplify learning nationally and welcome system leaders and partners who wish to engage with what we have learned where they are. We hope it will provide opportunities to collaborate and partner with a range of individuals, organisations, and communities working towards similar goals, and link into existing networks and collaborations that participants may not be aware of. We would love for this to help us move forward to a future where every community thrives, and those in the most need get to shape and influence the system that disadvantaged them. Together, we can foster wellbeing and increased physical activity.

Alice Rosenthal
Author: Alice Rosenthal