An older man is being coached by a gym instructor whilst using gym equipment inside one of the Leisure East Devon facilities, In the background a woman is running on a running machine.

Active Devon Publishes The Future of Public Leisure in Devon Report

What if the full potential of Devon’s leisure services could be unlocked, so that those who would benefit the most could become more active, more often, and live longer, connected and healthier lives?

A new report, published on the 9 May 2024 by Active Devon, highlights the invaluable contribution Devon’s public leisure services make by providing physical activity opportunities to support communities to be connected and healthy. It emphasises the important opportunity for leisure and health partners to help realise and unlock the value and potential of these services to promote physical activity and wellbeing. We call for a shared vision in the fight against inactivity and ill health, to help overcome the barriers preventing people to be active, tackle inequalities and contribute towards prevention.

Being physically active supports better health and wellbeing by helping to reduce the risk of developing illnesses and managing existing health conditions. Active Devon is a community-focused, non-profit organisation with a vision of everyone in Devon active for life. Our mission is to unlock the ability of movement to change lives for the better.

For four years, we have been working closely with local authority public leisure services across Devon, bringing them together to share information, learn, explore and connect. At the same time, we have been working with One Devon NHS, to explore the challenges faced in delivering complex health and social care. We consulted with a wide range of stakeholders, to seek views on what needs to change so that public leisure services can deliver the best outcomes for communities.

Our work with public leisure has helped unpack some of the most important areas of potential and the report shares these emerging themes for further development. One of which is to work together as a ‘whole system’ in support of a shared outcome to help ‘Devon move together.’ A vital part of this is helping re-shape the culture and subsequent narratives that are often prevalent around leisure provision from one of ‘burden’ and ‘cost’ towards ‘potential’ and ‘opportunity.’

The collaboration has highlighted that there is a real opportunity, as momentum grows with Integrated Care Systems, to bring leisure into the conversation as a genuine contributor to an emerging prevention agenda and as a very real catalyst in unlocking a healthier and active Devon.

We have a role to play in connecting with, and supporting, leisure colleagues in our leadership work, helping build collective understanding of systemic, collaborative and innovative approaches to tackling inequality in places through physical activity. Achieving this by supporting and connecting relationships across local systems with wider partners, helping to advocate the value of the leisure sector as a significant contributor to community cohesion, wellbeing and vibrancy.

Report author and Active Devon’s Director, Gareth Dix said:

“There is considerable hidden potential in our network of public leisure facilities supported by a growing skilled workforce to be a catalyst for change. Unlocking the value of leisure services to tackle inequality and contribute meaningfully to the prevention agenda, is the key to transforming the future of public leisure.

“We hope the report will stimulate ideas and opportunities for further collaboration as our public and social system landscape transitions to one of integrative whole system approaches in tackling inactivity, addressing need, and delivering community services that enable a better quality of life.”

In Devon, there are 10 local authorities helping keep residents and visitors healthy and connected through physical activity by supporting 36 major leisure facilities across 27 towns and two cities. Within this infrastructure there are 19 swimming pools (25 m) and one Olympic swimming pool (50 m). There are also multiple community swimming pools. It is estimated that Devon’s public leisure services received 4.68 million visits in 2022 and employ over 2,000 staff (821 full time), either directly or indirectly through long-term partnerships with providers.

Devon has more small community sport and physical activity facilities run by voluntary groups than any other county in England. Most of Devon’s cities and key towns, whether on the coast or within the rural heartland, all support publicly funded community facilities with the sole purpose to enable local people to engage with affordable sport, physical activity and movement opportunities for social outcomes.

Gareth adds:

“We are grateful to our national colleagues such as Sport England for supporting our work in Devon and look forward to further collaboration by our national and local partners as we begin to move forward and explore next steps. This incredible piece of work has been a collaborative effort, and we look forward to the opportunity of working to help transform and deliver The Future of Public Leisure across Devon.”

Read the full report: The Future of Public Leisure in Devon report