Developing a physical activity strategy ‘fit’ for the future: in conversation with Active Cheshire and Merseyside Sports Partnership

Work is taking place across Cheshire and Merseyside to develop a new Physical Activity Strategy, that will aim to help 150,000 more inactive people be more physically active by 2026.

The strategy is currently being consulted on, with engagement being led by the subregion’s two Active Partnerships, Active Cheshire and MSP (Merseyside Sports Partnership), on behalf of the Collaborative and the Cheshire and Merseyside Health and Care Partnership.

So, what does it take to develop such a strategy? We sat down with Roger Elliott from Active Cheshire and Danny Woodworth from MSP to learn more about this work and their plans to increase physical activity in Cheshire and Merseyside.


What is the purpose of the Cheshire and Merseyside Physical Activity Strategy engagement?

RE: There’s quite a few elements to it. We’re keen to establish buy-in on the overall approach and the strategy development. It’s a good opportunity to bring partners up to date with the work we’ve done so far. We want to be checking and challenging around the strategic themes and priorities and their alignment to the Cheshire and Merseyside Marmot principles.

We would like to understand from organisations how they see themselves as part of the strategic ambitions that are being proposed. Also acting as a platform for long-term relationships with partners and supporting the development of the strategy going forward.


Who are you consulting with?

DW: There’s two phases of the consultation. The first phase is with organisations and stakeholders. In total we have engaged with 107 organisations in phase one, including those who look at food, poverty, safety, education, and transport. It’s not just about focusing on sport and physical activity; it’s going to take a whole-system approach to bring about the change we want to see. We’ve looked at the research and we know the factors that support and prevent people from being physically active. We wanted to reach out to a broad and diverse group of organisations, and I think we have made a really good start.

RE: For the second phase, it’s about making sure we’re speaking to a cross-section of the public, so a real focus on those experiencing the greatest health inequalities and have the most to gain by being more physically active across Cheshire and Merseyside.


Why is it important to engage with a range of organisations?

RE: We want to develop a strategy that is relevant to the places that we work within and the ambitions that we share, so engaging a wide range of partners across systems that we work with is key to that. It’s all about that buy-in, and it’s all about that whole-systems approach; organisations working together to achieve greater outcomes and reducing health inequalities.


How do you expect the new strategy will support organisations across the subregion to enable more people to be physically active?

DW: We’re hoping the strategy will leverage investment into each of the places to equip the partners within those places that are already doing some amazing work, but to upskill them a bit more and provide them with resources and tools so that they can scale that up more.

There will also be elements of research into best practice and value for money around improving physical activity and using physical activity as a tool to support other health agendas. Then we could look to see if there is a willingness to adopt some of that best practice at place, using some of the investment and lobbying on advocacy that we’re doing to make sure that there is some investment into prevention.


Why is it important to get people more physically active?

RE: We know the wide range of health benefits that are associated with being physically active, including improving physical, mental, and social health, and we also know that physical activity has been identified as a key part of health improvement.

The Chief Medical Officer has previously said: “if physical activity was a drug, we would refer to it as a miracle cure, due to the great many illnesses it can prevent and help treat”, so for us we know that physical activity, people moving more, has a key part to play in improving the health of residents across Cheshire and Merseyside.

DW: Sheffield Hallam University did some research into the wider social return on investment that physical activity brings, and it was £3.91 return for every £1 that was invested. Regarding the wider societal impact, we know physical activity can be used as a tool to help reduce crime, to improve education, to bring people together and to reduce loneliness. So, as well as the obvious savings to the NHS and impact on health, it has wider societal impacts also.


Your aim is to enable 150,000 more people to be physically active by 2026. How do you think this can be achieved?

RE: By working together. It’s really important that we work with all areas of society, all partners, all organisations to achieve this.

There’s lots of amazing work already going on, it’s around how do we scale up the most effective interventions and create more opportunities for people to be more active. We need to leverage more investment into prevention, especially at a time when for obvious reasons there’s going to be a lot of money going into treatment and supporting a backlog. So, what can we do as a system to support that agenda? For example, we’re having conversations around what we can do to support people waiting for surgery to increase their physical activity levels and improve their fitness so that when they have that surgery, they’re in a better position, they’ve got quicker recovery times so there’s positive impacts for them and for the NHS.

DW: It’s about partners working together within health and care settings, for example embedding physical activity within care pathways. It’s also key that we’re working with communities; we need to support our local places to provide more accessible, safe, varied, and fun opportunities for people to be active and move more. It’s about finding ways that work for them, that’s incredibly important.


Do you have any examples of physical activity strategies already taking place that you would like to see more of?

RE: GM Moving in Greater Manchester is a great example of what can be achieved as another whole-system approach to increasing physical activity levels and reducing health inequalities, and that’s a really good example of partners working together with common aims, all pulling in the same direction.

DW: There’s already lots of good stuff going on locally too that we could build upon, for example in Liverpool they have worked to create a public health campaign called ‘Fit For Me’ that promotes physical activity to key demographics, so we also need to look at how we can take the learning and the best practice from initiatives like this to support the whole region.


What changes would you like to see regarding physical activity across Cheshire and Merseyside?

RE: I think access to physical activity opportunities for all, because we know that there are many barriers to physical activity that exist for many people with long term health conditions, people with disabilities, people from ethnic minority backgrounds and the most deprived communities. We need to work to break these barriers down and support people to be more physically active and move more in a way that works for them.

DW: More investment into prevention, especially if you think about the Marmot work – that’s all about prevention and Proportionate Universalism, making sure that the investment goes into the areas and people that really need it. We’d like it to be more joined up too, the whole system approach that we want to get to is going to take time; it takes time because it’s all about building relationships. But if we do that then it will result in all the things that we mentioned so that at the end of the day our population have got more and fairer opportunities to access things to benefit them.

If you or your organisation is interested in supporting this work, please contact Danny Woodworth via or 07730 028773, or Roger Elliott via or 07850 775064 for an informal discussion