Birmingham shows you can Be active

With a shocking report showing lack of exercise is a bigger killer across the world than smoking or obesity, an award-winning scheme in Birmingham is successfully bucking the trend.

Research, published in the Lancet today, estimates that about a third of adults are not doing enough physical activity, causing 5.3m deaths a year. That equates to about one in 10 deaths from diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and breast and colon cancer. Researchers said the problem was now so bad it should be treated as a pandemic.

But Birmingham City Council Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, Cllr Steve Bedser, says the city’s Be active scheme is tackling many of the issues raised in the Lancet report.

Launched as a city-wide initiative in 2009, Be active is a groundbreaking partnership between the NHS and the local authority, offering FREE gym,swim and physical activities to all residents.

And, with over 50 activities now on offer as part of the scheme, Cllr Bedser believes the people of Birmingham have a unique opportunity to get fit and stay active.

He said: “This report comes as no surprise, but the statistics are shocking nonetheless and highlight exactly why we launched Be active with our NHS partners.

“The scheme has been a huge success over the last few years and over 350,000 people have now signed-up to Be active.

“We now offer more than 50 sports and activities, so there really is something for everyone, everyday across the city – and it’s still free.”

Since a Be active pilot project was launched in 2008, the number of physically active people in Birmingham has increased from 17.2 per cent of the population to 20 per cent.

Cllr Bedser added: “Of course there’s still room for improvement but independent analysis of Be active has shown we’re very definitely moving in the right direction.

“Not surprisingly, price is a barrier to participation, so access to free exercise has increased people’s likelihood to participate. We’re attracting hard to reach groups including women and ethnic minority communities.

“Better still, the research shows that participation on the scheme has increased participant demand for other lifestyle information such as smoking cessation and alcohol advice.”

Over 350,000 people are now registered for the scheme, meaning one in three people across Birmingham enjoy free use of their council–run leisure facilities, attending gyms, swimming pools, walking groups, and fitness classes and reaping the health and wellbeing benefits it brings.

In addition to daily swim and gym sessions at all major leisure centres across the city, the new-look Be active scheme offers tennis, bowls, basketball, fencing, gymnastics, netball, badminton, table tennis, Tai Chi, yoga, boxercise, power plates, cycling, walking and much more at leisure centres and parks across the city.


For more information contact Geoff Coleman on 0121 303 3501

Notes to Editors

Details of FREE Be active sessions across the city can be found on the new website

Photographs can be downloaded here:

Be active is a city-wide scheme, designed to help everyone increase their physical activity for free. With such a wide range of activities to choose from there is something for everyone at every leisure centre across the city, to help you lose weight, reduce the risk of illness and even boost your confidence.

Be active is available to anyone who lives in a property eligible for council tax in Birmingham. You will need to take two forms of identification with you to your local leisure facility when you join Be active. All you need to access Be active is a Leisure Card which can be accessed from your local leisure centre.

The scheme was initially called Gym for Free and was launched in February 2008 in the Ladywood Constituency to 100,000 residents as a joint initiative between NHS Heart of Birmingham tPCT and Birmingham City Council.

Gym for Free offered free swimming, fitness classes, and gym sessions to all of the residents of the constituency as long as they exercised at least 4 times per month. There was no upper limit to the number of times they could attend exercise sessions and the only other criteria was residency within the constituency.

Initially there were only 95 people across Ladywood regularly exercising on the local authorities direct debit scheme (the closest benchmark). Within 6 months there were 7,000 people on the Gym For Free scheme. Demand was through the roof and people were queuing for up to 2 hours to access sessions.

By November 2008 the scheme was rolled out to the rest of the Heart of Birmingham PCT area, some 300,000 people.

The scheme continued to prove successful and won a number of awards for tackling health inequalities and also social marketing.


  • 60% on scheme from the Black and Minority Ethnic communities. Traditionally hard to reach groups, such as Bangladeshi and Pakistani women, are over-represented.
  • Average age of people in the gyms on the scheme is 49 but in the private gyms is 29.
  • In those signing up to the scheme:
  • 50% overweight or obese.
  • 50% had raised blood pressure.
  • 25% smoke.
  • 20% said health poor or very poor.
  • 20% suffered extreme/moderate anxiety and depression.
  • This means that those communities with the biggest health gain to make are the ones using the scheme the most.
  • 74.3% of users were not previously a member of a leisure centre, gym, or swimming pool before joining. ensure as much access to the community as possible.
Be Active
Author: Be Active