The FAST project – Families Active, Sporting Together – is a ground-breaking initiative to encourage children, parents and others to enjoy sports as a family and become more physically active. Led by Cherwell District Council and funded by Sport England, FAST builds on evidence that parents are influential role models for children and can lead by example. The project offers energizing low-price activities for residents in four wards of Banbury: Neithrop, Ruscote, Hardwick and Grimsbury. These areas, with an estimated family population of 20,460, rank highly in the 20% most deprived wards in England and have relatively high levels of long-term health problems. Life expectancy in Ruscote ward, for example, averages 9.3 years less than in Cherwell’s least deprived district. Data from the recent Active Lives report shows that activity levels in Cherwell are below the national average, with only 57.8% of the population classified as ‘active’. Through FAST, run in partnership with the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, the council is addressing this issue.
A range of attractive offers has been created for families, including swimming, sports programmes in local parks and gym sessions. In the current season a family of two adults and three children pay £3 for a swim – an outing that would normally cost them £13. Gym activities at a participating centre are available for £1. Families joining the scheme access leisure facilities with a ‘FAST’ membership card. Designed for easy use, the card also aids the collection of monitoring data. This will help to identify which groups are taking part, and which have yet to be reached. In support of the project the council has contacted health workers, social workers, community groups and the local mosque, who have all agreed to help promote the activities. Local GPs are also being encouraged to prescribe the FAST project to patients who would benefit. Schools are a key focus of the programme, with several hosting free after-school sports sessions for whole families. Events are designed as drop-in sessions that are fun and accessible to all, with the idea that the physical intensity of activities will increase as the course progresses.
The project began in Summer 2018, with a swim offer and drop-in park activities. Early monitoring of the scheme showed its immediate popularity, with 539 attendances at Summer swim sessions; 264 attendances at park activities at Nethrop; and 284 attendances at Banbury’s Woodgreen Leisure Centre. Participant ratings for the swim events ranged from average to very high.
Between September and December 2018, FAST ran its first full season, with activities at three primary schools, a children’s centre and Banbury United Football Club. Around 60 families took part, between them attending 542 individual sessions. During this period use of the electronic FAST card was held in check because of a systems upgrade, but by mid-February 2019 the new card was ready to go. By the first week in March more than 400 cards had been issued or re-issued, indicating that around 115 families now take part in the programme. The new card will allow the council to track the success of the initiative more closely, and to find out whether participants are becoming more active over time and if their attitudes to sport have changed.