Unlocking the barriers to physical activity

Gloucestershire was chosen as one of six programmes to receive funding as part of the King’s Fund and National Lottery Community Fund scheme to explore new ways of working with local communities and the voluntary sector during 2021. This case study forms part of the health inequalities hub.


With nearly three in 10 people from ethnic minority groups in Gloucestershire classed as physically inactive work is under way to support BAME women to get involved with a wide range of activities.

It is all part of a wider drive to work with local people to address health inequalities in the county.

Unlocking the barriers to physical activity 

The county of Gloucestershire is ethnically diverse, but what perhaps marks it out is the wide range of different ethnic groups living in the county - there are more than 70 languages spoken across the county.  

Working with the ethnic minority community is one of the key priorities for Active Gloucestershire’s We Can Move programme. In 2018 the team started to do some on-the-ground work in the Barton and Tredworth wards in the south of Gloucester. This is the most ethnically diverse area of the county with more than 40 per cent of the local population from a BAME background. 

Active Gloucestershire Director of Physical Activity Kirsty Dunleavy-Harris said: “We wanted to do something that was really place-based – to find out what is strong in the area, what was stopping people being active and to work closely with local residents themselves to identify ways to address them.  

We got strong feedback from local residents – and particularly women – that they were interested in being more physically active but just did not feel there were really any opportunities for them. The lack of female-only activities was a real issue.  

“So we worked with them to design and plan some new initiatives and raised awareness locally of existing opportunities, helping with funding and finding instructors. But really it was the community themselves that drove it, they knew what would work locally.” 

A female-only exercise class was set up, a walking group formed, climbing activities arranged and a cycling group established. The cycling group has become incredibly popular and a permanent fixture linked to a local community hub, the Friendship Café. More than 30 local women have learnt to ride a bike and nine others have now trained to become cycling instructors.  

One woman, in her early 50s, who had not cycled since she was a teenager, described getting back on a bike as one of the “highlights of my life”, she added:

I used to have this buzz about me when I cycled everywhere as a teenager, now I feel it again whenever I cycle. And for that I’m truly happy. It’s me rediscovering myself again. 

By the time COVID-19 hit, nearly 300 women were involved in different activities. The pandemic disrupted the development of more groups, but in recent months an outdoor gym, couch-to-5k running groups and a community garden project have been set up.  

‘We want to rip up the rule book’ 

But the work by Active Gloucestershire is just one element of the wider push to tackle health inequalities across the county. Gloucestershire Director of Public Health Sarah Scott’s 2020 annual report, 'Beyond Covid: Race, Health and Inequality', identified the issue as a key priority in the recovery from the pandemic.  

Like the We Can Move work there is a big focus on empowering the community and making the most of local people, places, spaces and skills. During the pandemic the council saw a rise in people coming forward to volunteer and there is now a network of hundreds of community champions with 150 alone in Barton and Tredworth. 

At the height of the pandemic, they helped counter some of the myths about COVID-19 and whether it was related to testing or vaccination. The champions are now going to be trained using the Royal Society of Public Health online health improvement course to enable them to get involved in promoting healthy lifestyles.  

Deputy Director of Public Health Siobhan Farmer said: “The response from the community during the pandemic was phenomenal and we want to harness that to make a real difference in tackling health inequalities for the long term. These champions have great reach into communities and are trusted. We think with their support and the success of the We Can Move programme we can have a significant impact.” 

This forms part of a new drive to pioneer different ways of working with the community and the voluntary sector to tackle health inequalities. The work will be done through Healthier Communities Together programme after Gloucestershire was chosen as one of six programmes to receive funding as part of the King’s Fund and National Lottery Community Fund scheme.  

Areas taking part receive £50,000 of initial funding alongside development support from the King’s Fund to explore new ways of working with local communities and the voluntary sector during 2021. 

To help do this two new health inequality posts have been created in public health to help analyse data and work with local communities to address some of the problems. The aim is then to implement and embed the plans over the following two years.  

Sarah Scott, Executive Director of Adult Social Care and Public Health at Gloucestershire County Council, said: “We want to do things differently, ripping up the rulebook and developing a culture and way of doing things that allows us to ‘do with’ rather than ‘do to.’ By truly working in partnership with a community we can offer everyone an equal seat at the table, ensuring all voices can be heard.”

Contact details

siobhan.farmer@gloucestershire.gov.uk