With 60% of its landscape classed as rural and in some cases
isolated it's not surprising that Conwy County Borough Council
needed to think outside of the box when looking to provide easy
access to sports opportunities for all.
Which is why, alongside modern purpose-built sporting stadiums
and gyms, church halls, school rooms and community centres have
become essential to the area's sporting infrastructure.
Rather than asking residents to travel to sport, the Conwy team
now take sport and physical activity right out into the nooks and
crannies of the beautiful North Wales countryside and it's having a
profound impact on the local communities.
Rural Leisure Officer, Tim Ballam, comments:
"5 years after an initial pilot, we're now seeing 400 regular
participants at our sessions every week.
"We knew that there were many people in communities across Conwy
that for a number of reasons could not, or did not feel comfortable
accessing sport and leisure opportunities at our traditional
The programme started with a surgery explaining the importance
of keeping active as part of a healthy lifestyle. Following
on from the surgery, demand for more localised physical activity
options was high, so Tim and the team at Conwy took actions to fill
"Through going out and talking with people in the communities,
we found that there were many barriers stopping people from
participating in sport and physical activity - we put a plan in
action to address them.
"From not being able to travel due to age, disability or lack of
means, to wanting to participate with other Welsh speakers- we
quickly built a picture of what we needed to offer.
"We had a 'man on the ground' who was able to help us form quick
relationships with the communities, which meant that we could offer
sessions that met demand and also offered a more personalised
and 'friendly' option. We offered something that didn't require the
build-up of confidence that maybe starting a new gym would.
"We now see those who would never have travelled to our
traditional centres becoming regular 'hooked' participants
alongside others who attend while still keeping up their normal
club sport or gym habits. In both cases it's great to see
we're serving a purpose."
The Ffit Conwy Rural Fitness programme now runs via a membership
scheme offering sessions such as studio cycling, Pilates and
boxercise in various community settings including church halls,
community centres, school halls and playing fields.
The programme has gone from strength to strength, complementing
the offer from other Conwy Sport and Leisure programmes and also
private clubs and gyms across the county. It has reached out to
rural residents on more than just a location and convenience level
and is for many of its regular participants at the heart of their
community, offering a more active and social lifestyle.
How did they do it?
Tim and the team at Conwy have shared with us their top tips for
setting up an outreach programme:
1. Consult with the Community
Beyond recognising that a good proportion of the rural
population were not accessing sport and physical activity
opportunities, Tim and the team put resource into understanding the
communities that they wanted to work with.
"We found out what types of interests they had, where session
would be most convenient, how long sessions should run for, when
they should run and numbers to expect.
"This helped us to tailor the offering to meet demand. It
also highlighted importantly the need for the classes to be
available in the Welsh language - something that has contributed
greatly to their success."
2. Have a Point of Contact within your
"We employed people on the project that knew and lived among
these communities which helped with the consultation. It also
meant sourcing venues became a little easier as these people often
knew who in the community was responsible for hiring out halls and
Having a go -to person on the ground also helped with word of
mouth promotions - something that the Ffit rural fitness sessions
have relied on.
3. Cover your Costs
Tim and the team had National Lottery funding through Sport
Wales to support the start-up of the project alongside investment
from Conwy County Borough Council. They are now however
completely self-funding and sustainable.
The secret behind this is simply that they made sure they were
covering costs from the off. Tim explains:
"By offering sessions in 6 weeks blocks and asking for up-front
payment we can ensure that costs are covered for the agreed period,
regardless of external factors.
"We keep prices as affordable as possible, while ensuring that
we can cover venue hire, instructor fees, etc."
4. Address the gaps - Don't compete with other
The Ffit rural project needed to ensure that it did not take
numbers away from existing offerings. This turned out to work
in its favour; by working to this brief, Tim and the team focused
on providing opportunities to those who were not already taking
part - making offerings unique to this group.
They also found that by working with private providers they were
able to more adequately fill gaps.
5. Ensure the demand is there and focus efforts where
they are most needed
As part of the initial consultations, the Conwy team were able
to check that proposals matched the community's needs. They
were also able to identify which groups would benefit most from the
offering and concentrate efforts accordingly.
"We decided to target young females as this is where there was a
greater need. Our promotion was heavily social media based
which helped us to reach the group well. We made sure that
our sessions suited this group and considered timings appropriate