28 September 2018

Whether you love or loathe sport or physical activity, we are as aware of the health benefits of regular exercise as we are the detrimental effects of drinking and smoking. Yet many of us still choose poorly.  And as informed adults perhaps that’s our choice, but for our next generation shouldn’t we ensure every young person has access to regular physical activity; irrespective of their background, ability and socioeconomic status?

Schools provide two hours of physical activity a week. That leaves families having to provide a further five hours of (moderate to vigorous*) activity for their children per week. Even the most sporty of families may struggle with this. Then add in, money constraints, safety concerns and a lack of local provision and it becomes a huge challenge – and for families living in poverty, completely unachievable and a very low priority.

I would argue that some young people don’t even access the two hours of PE. We work with young people living in deprived areas of London who tell us they don’t do any exercise at all. They are the young people we must target.

At London Youth, our sports programme aims to tackle the barriers young people face in accessing high quality physical activity sessions. We work with and through community youth organisations, situated in the most deprived areas across the capital, to deliver activities our young people want. Youth organisations provide a safe space for young people to spend time with their friends, try new things and to develop their social and emotional skills in a friendly environment and away from formal education. These spaces become even more important during the school holidays.

Youth organisations are ideally placed to tackle inactivity which our sports programme has been doing successfully for nearly 10 years now. Over 40% of young people report as being inactive when they begin, with 78% going onto complete our year long programme. And they don’t just benefit by becoming fitter but also in terms of increased confidence, resilience and relationships skills.

But, despite these overwhelming successes, it is becoming increasingly difficult to fund our programme because it falls under the heading of ‘participation’. The vast majority of funders are more interested in supporting ‘sport for development’ programmes, which of course have their place, but if young people aren’t engaged in sport to begin with, they certainly won’t be enrolling in a sport for employability programme.

Grassroots participation programmes are vital.  Ours is often the first step to a young person doing any exercise at all – and also means they can try a range of non-traditional activities unavailable through schools.

All young Londoners have a right to access opportunities to get active. This is something that was true over 130 years ago when London Youth was founded, and is something that will remain true for the next 130. We are now having to think creatively how to fund this critical work. But we will continue to do so because we have a duty to the next generation to ensure they grow up active, healthy and happy.

– Zoe Mellis, Head of Sports


*Moderate physical activity refers to activities equivalent in intensity to brisk walking or bicycling. Vigorous physical activity produces large increases in breathing or heart rate, such as jogging, aerobic dance or bicycling uphill.


September 23rd to 30th is the European Week of Sport – #BeActive.

Find out more about our sports programme here and join the conversation on Twitter @LondonYouth / #LYSports.

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