Despite having run a range of GP referral physical activity programmes, linked to weight-management, cardio rehabilitation and diabetes, Blackburn with Darwen still had some of the lowest sport and physical activity participation rates in the North West, according to Sport England’s Active People survey.
This, combined with high smoking rates, a prevalence of mental health problems, and low life expectancy, convinced the local authority and primary care trust that a radical solution was needed.
In 2007, the council launched re:fresh in partnership with local health organisations and the primary care trust.
It began with an awareness campaign that ran in the media, online and in public buildings. Called ‘Killer Facts’ the campaign was designed to help local people confront their potential health problems.
Longer-term, the emphasis, however, was not on concerning people about their health but on supporting them to make healthier choices by connecting them to their local leisure centre, encouraging them to take part in healthy activities such as cycling, walking and tennis, and working with local communities in the five neighbourhood areas to help them develop their own activities.
At the heart of the programme were free sessions at the council’s five leisure centres, introduced incrementally by age group, starting with the over-fifties. From September 2008, 16-24 year-olds were added, with 25-49 year olds the following April.
Participants said the initial health message got them interested in taking part, but it was the social and emotional benefits of sport and physical activity that kept them going.