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Regeneration of high streets through sport?

How can sport help regenerate the high street and improve derelict urban spaces in cities?

This and other questions on model partnerships between local authorities and professional sports clubs, promoting health and fitness for all sections of society, were discussed at our dedicated sports forum, hosted at HereEast last week, where Loughborough University has a campus on the Olympic Park.

Tim Barnes, Head of Enterprise Development at Loughborough University London remarked that HereEast is very much a knowledge intensive quarter with neighbours University College London and the University of the Arts London, now in place in the Olympic Park

He described the growth of young sports tech companies which come to join Loughborough's SPIN accelerator programme from all over Europe to develop their businesses through the University's networks, knowledge and experience. These companies are pushing people to engage with sport and the urban environment - such as Imagine Active and BatFast. 'We have a centre for innovation around disability for instance, so we can join up sports innovation with that. In future the separate actors on the Olympic Park will start to integrate more.' The first cohort of 18 companies have graduated from the SPIN Accelerator, and three have already achieved seed funding from investors. Listen to Tim in the video below.

Dan Feist, Head of Cricket Operations at Essex Cricket (which first competed in the County Championship in 1895) described how the club has been working with the London Borough of Newham on new approaches to community out-reach. He remarked that the Club had used BatFast's cricket simulators to encourage participation. BatFast has also been putting simulators into vacant shop spaces on Ilford High Street, providing opportunities for both entertainment and sports practice for children and adults in an urban setting. Dan added that the simulator, with its automated bowling machine and animated video graphics, has been especially popular with female cricketers.

'At Essex Cricket we are doing a lot with West Ham, Leyton Orient and the netball teams, as we felt that partners from outside cricket could help each other in connecting communities with active sport. It's been important to put in new pitches in some areas, but we also put on cricket events outside Stratford station. This has opened up conversations between the Westfield shopping side and Stratford Centre on the other side.

' It's about breaking down perceptions on what cricket requires and needs (on space, kit and costs). Queens' Market is now putting on a big celebration for the Cricket World Cup, linking up with other sports, like karate and also dance. Mixing sports can open up new discussions - with businesses for instance.'

Dan referenced the approach taken by skate-boarders on 'owning' the under-used and neglected undercroft at London's Southbank Centre:

'The community - if you listen to them - will give you the answers. They may want flood-lit and inside., and because of this they have started using subways. The challenge is then working with the council to develop this approach. 'We'll shut this road for one day a week' can be an answer.

There are now two primary hubs (West Ham CC and Newham CC) and five satellite clubs where you play cricket in Newham, as well as an indoor centre and four practice facilities with new sites under consideration. Over 18 schools are now involved, with 100 volunteers, and 15 supporting partners.

On broadening the sport, Dan reflected: 'How do we become a leading hub for women's sport while redeveloping our main ground at Chelmsford? How can we make this work better for a wider mix of players and spectators?' Listen to Dan talking above on working with schools.

Lisa Brivati, who leads on the female sports and London Youth Games delivery for Newham Active, commented on the shortage of female sports coaches: 'There are very few women's coaches to run our sessions - we have just started Wildcat sessions for girls' football. The game, though, is so much better for women now because of professionalisation but there need to be more female-only coaching qualifications.

'Part of our role is to engage with people who are not active, and technology does not work there. You need to go and sit down and talk and encourage them. We have been concentrating on girls and adults, with a group meeting on what we can do to help looking at what opportunities there are - and use social media to support it. Creating social hubs is vital, so combining this with sport is important , and we will grow community coaches to take this forward,

The Social Inclusion and Disability Lead for Newham Active, Craig Hughes, talked about the connection between mental health and sport, and how this linked with activities around social inclusion: 'We are building on what residents need - lots of accessible leisure centres, and using green spaces that Newham is quite well endowed with. A lot of our work is about integrating residents into the facilities that the borough already has. There is quite a lot of 'separation'. but we are building community spirit for people who live, work and play in the borough.

' We are currently working with the University of East London to get their sports development students down to deliver sports activities and also to connect with the students doing masters degrees in community work - and looking at linking with Birkbeck College as well. We have just joined with Wall Ball ('any wall, any ball') and they have painted walls for sport. This really works, animating and activating underused areas for communities. These partnerships are really important.'

We will be releasing our full report soon on this topic with further content.

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