Tommy George: Healthy way to tackle poverty

Tommy George, Community Development Manager, Edinburgh Leisure
Tommy George, Community Development Manager, Edinburgh Leisure
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LAST month, the First Minister launched ambitious plans to tackle the damaging effects of child poverty in Scotland by 2030.

The Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill recognises and seeks to address the wide-ranging inequalities which face an estimated 200,000 children in Scotland who are growing up in poverty.

Poverty has been shown to negatively affect young people in a number of ways, from their educational attainment to their health.

As summarised by The Child Poverty Action Group; “Poverty remains one of the most serious problems facing children today. Its effects last a lifetime, negatively impacting on health, education, social and physical development and seriously harming future life chances and opportunities.”

This situation must be addressed as a commitment to our future generation. But, with so many competing needs, where should the greatest resource and attention be placed?

At Edinburgh Leisure, we believe that providing opportunities to take part in physical activity must be considered as a core contributor to improving chances for children and families living in poverty.

A big part of growing up is about being physically active and getting the chance to take part in sport which can have an enormously positive effect on a young person’s wellbeing. It improves confidence, helping young people focus in school – resulting in better educational attainment. It also develops essential life skills like communication, teamwork and resilience.

People may not realise that Edinburgh Leisure is actually a charity dedicated to creating opportunities for everyone to get active, stay active and lead healthier lives. We’re uniquely placed to use our expertise and citywide venues to combat the health and social inequalities faced by children affected by poverty.

Over the past decade, we have worked with our partners in education, youth work, social work and the voluntary sector to tackle barriers to participation and help children, young people and their families get active whatever their circumstances.

Our Friday evening youth initiative Open All Hours offers teenagers in Edinburgh the chance to enjoy a wide range of physical activities. Edinburgh Leisure staff work hand in hand with youth work teams from across the city to support 300 young people a week to get active. Costing just £1 for two hours, Open All Hours enables everyone to access their local facilities.

Our Community Access Programme works with over 150 voluntary sector agencies, giving them the tools, support and encouragement to enable children and families to get more active, more often. We also offer additional support to some of the most marginalised and hard to reach children and young people in the city. Our Looked After and Active programme works with children in care to offer subsidised access to physical activity and we engage with with foster carers, social workers and families.

As part of a joint initiative with NHS Lothian and the voluntary organisation Stepping Stones, we are working with young mums in North Edinburgh to raise awareness of the importance of regular physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle for both mum and baby. The sessions introduce new mums to active play, encouraging and supporting these new families to take steps towards a physically active and healthy future.

We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to improve their health and wellbeing through regular physical activity. As the Government sets out on this important three-year child poverty action plan, it is vital that local authorities, national agencies and funders work together to ensure that addressing improvements in health, wellbeing and physical activity is given critical prominence.

For further information about Edinburgh Leisure’s programmes see www.edinburghleisure.co.uk/activities/be-active

n Tommy George is community development manager, Edinburgh Leisure