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Sport can build individual health and nurture the wellbeing of entire communities
20-06-2012 | A source of entertainment, exercise and passion, sport has a perhaps unrivalled ability to bring people together, crossing international, social and cultural boundaries in a way that little else in modern society can. Love it or loathe it, there will be no escaping sport’s dominance of the headlines over the coming weeks as athletes compete at the highest level on a global stage. But beyond this summer, sport promises much more – a lasting legacy that builds individual health and nurtures the wellbeing of entire communities.
Fit for purpose
Stepping into SportHouse’s main hall, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve taken a wrong turn into an aircraft hanger. At 5,000m2, the new multi-use sports hall in Dagenham, East London, is the UK’s largest and could theoretically house three 737s. More practically, the huge space can host four full-size handball courts, eight netball courts or 54 badminton courts. There’s also a state-of-the-art gym and two free-to-use basketball courts.
"Sport can inspire a different level of human connection, cutting across social, ethnic and religious boundaries."
Dr Bevis Watts, Head of Business Banking, Triodos Bank
SportHouse is one of only three newly-built Games-Time Training Venues for the 2012 Games. Over the coming weeks, elite athletes competing in handball, athletics, judo and wheelchair rugby will prepare for what for many will be the pinnacle of their sporting career. But SportHouse promises a far longer lasting legacy, one that pays dividends for years to come.
“We believe that by creating world class sports facilities we can have a significantly positive effect on the local community and provide an environment that allows professional athletes and the general public to train alongside each other to maximise their sporting potential,” explains SportHouse CEO Mike Stimson. “The challenge now is to ensure the SportHouse legacy helps create a healthier, happier, fitter community that can comfortably afford to enjoy exercise and sport in the best possible facilities.”
As well a new hub for sports in East London, SportHouse is one of the highlights of Triodos Bank’s lending to community sports organisations. It’s a relatively new area for the bank; one that we believe can deliver benefits both to individual health and, through tackling social exclusion, healthier communities.
The state of the nation’s health shouldn’t be underplayed. In April The Academy of Royal Medical Colleges claimed that rising levels of child and adult obesity is the single greatest public health threat in the UK. The UK already has the highest rate of obesity in Europe and obesity in children under 11 has risen by over 40% in 10 years. Based on current trends, half of all children will be obese or overweight by 2020.
Physical health is only one side of the story. Government statistics show that people who people who live in the most deprived areas are less likely to take part in active sport. The paradox is that in some ways people from the most deprived communities have the most to gain. Stories of how professional sportspeople have made a better life for themselves through sport are well-known, but as well as the elite few who make it to the top of their game, many more find sport to be a source of discipline and ambition in their lives. For some vulnerable young adults, a devotion to sport is the driving factor that helps them choose a more productive path in life.
Wider communities too can, in turn, benefit from sport’s power to bring people together. In finding common ground above and beyond social and economic divisions, greater participation in sport can help deliver genuine community cohesion.
Triodos took a proactive decision to actively developed its lending to community sports projects in 2009. At the time a wider government and public agenda was gaining momentum, seeking to provide a lasting legacy in sports with more people regularly engaging in sporting activity for years to come. It prompted the bank to consider what role if any it could play to support this, and what form that support might take. Dr Bevis Watts, Head of Business Banking at Triodos, explains.
“We see huge benefits in financing sport. It can inspire a different level of human connection, cutting across social, ethnic and religious boundaries. On these terms alone it’s fantastic for children in particular and communities generally to engage in sporting activity. Add to this the massive potential health benefits and it’s clear sport can play an important role in building a more sustainable society.”
One dilemma Triodos faced was to consider how it could focus on the sports projects with the greatest social, environmental and cultural benefits.
“We thought, how can we effectively do that? Does that mean supporting golf clubs, gyms and leisure centres whose membership fees make them elitist and exclusive? No - we wanted to finance either community owned or community focused centres. They might be privately owned –for example as SportHouse is - but they are set up entirely for community and public access,” says Watts.
Other key criteria include whether the facilities are multi-sports – supporting a broad range of activities beyond the sports which dominate the headlines – if they are available for schools to hire, and ideally, like our borrowing customer Burnage Rugby Football Club, if they’re in areas of the UK that are the most deprived for the provision of sports facilities. Triodos has chosen to rule out financing sports clubs that are dependent on bar sales for their financial sustainability.
“We also look for some element of added value. In SportHouse’s case, the development is built to the highest standards environmentally, and almost all the materials used have very high proportions of recycled content,” says Watts. “They also work closely with Living the Dream, a local charity which helps children with behavioural problems or from deprived backgrounds to rebuild their self-esteem, setting ambitious goals and helping them to achieve them.”
SportHouse’s scale presented a quandary in itself. Would Triodos have a greater impact financing a number of smaller organisations with clear benefits for their local communities, or one major one with a potentially far greater reach?
“We had seen a number of small projects, like Burnage RFC, that were community owned and clearly having a positive impact locally. We saw these squarely between the eyes as really great projects for Triodos to support. Then, we were faced with SportHouse - a gargantuan project, with huge opportunities, but which also presented a number of dilemmas,” says Watts. “It’s community focused, but privately owned; it’s a state-of-the art facility for elite athletes but provides an environment for the general public to train alongside them. We would also be the biggest investor, lending £5.5 million of the total project cost of £8.1 million.
“In these cases you have to get close to the entrepreneur and really understand their vision,” says Watts. “SportHouse is fantastic because the major motivation for the people behind it is inspiring a whole new generation of kids in sport. They’re driven by creating 50 new full-time jobs in East London and by providing facilities to people who previously had no access to them. Ultimately it was this that inspired us to support SportHouse – with the right motivations we were confident the community benefits would follow.”
words: Will Ferguson