Kidsgrove Sports Centre

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:24 pm on 9th June 2020.

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Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 7:24 pm, 9th June 2020

I thank my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis for securing this debate and bringing this important issue to my and the Department’s attention. I welcome the opportunity to discuss it with him today. I thank and praise him for the persistent and constructive way in which he has brought it to my attention, pretty much from day one since he was elected. I applaud that persistence, and the way that he has engaged with Sport England and other bodies. I am also very impressed by the west midlands representation in the Chamber this evening.

Lying behind the question of the specific centre in Kidsgrove, at the heart of my hon. Friend’s constituency, is an important point: high-quality sport and physical activity facilities should be locally accessible and available to everyone, including the hardest to reach in society, no matter where they come from or where they live. As he is aware, Sport England is my Department’s arm’s length body, with the responsibility for distributing funding for grassroots sport, including for facilities and planning. Unfortunately, DCMS does not hold the budget for such applications, so I am afraid that there is no separate pot of money that I can delve into and allocate myself, but he is absolutely doing the right things in the approach he is taking. I understand that he is in regular contact with Sport England colleagues, and indeed held a meeting today with senior members of staff there, with a further meeting scheduled for later this month, so he is taking absolutely the right approach to reach what I hope will be a satisfactory conclusion.

We all know the unique power of sport and recognise the way it can transform people’s lives for the better. The benefits of sport go far beyond the physical upside, and these broader outcomes are at the heart of what we are trying to achieve. At the core of the Government’s Sporting Future strategy is a desire to create a healthier, happier and more productive nation. Supporting people to be more active in the way that suits them best is a crucial part of that.

Covid-19 has had a huge impact on grassroots sport. In order to understand how the sector has been affected, I have been engaging directly with a wide range of sports sector organisations, including through the fortnightly sport working group meetings, where we discuss the impact of coronavirus right across the sector. In addition to the significant economic packages announced by the Chancellor, Sport England has made £210 million of Exchequer and lottery funding available to help community sports organisations to deal with the impact of covid-19. Government guidance on the pandemic, including sport-specific guidance, is available online, providing advice to organisations and facilities that have been affected.

One of the biggest factors affecting people’s desire and ability to get involved in sport and physical activity is the facilities they can access. Our Sporting Future strategy was clear that facilities should be a priority and that they must place people at the heart of their design. Good-quality, inclusive and welcoming environments in the right locations are so important in encouraging people to get back and stay active. To support this, Sport England is investing up to £40 million in large-scale facilities up to 2021 through its strategic facilities fund. Its communities assets fund also provides grants of up to £150,000 to organisations and communities to support spaces and facilities in their local areas.

I am pleased to note that Sport England has previously invested in my hon. Friend’s local area, including providing funding for the Dimensions sport and leisure centre in neighbouring Tunstall and the indoor cricket facility over at Clayton. These are two great examples of how Sport England funding has contributed to the provision of support to enable communities to be more active.

It is clear that facilities work only when they are properly planned, used and maintained. This means being really clear on which people we think would benefit most from using them. We all know that some of the hardest-to-reach groups in society are exactly the people who will benefit most from getting more active. This is another key message in our strategy. We want to see a strong focus on the whole sport and physical activity sector—on how we can reach people who have not traditionally thought that sport or activity is for them. Again, this kind of thinking should be at the heart of facility development, ensuring that the principles of accessibility and inclusivity are at the centre of planning from the start. We must avoid building facilities that do not have the support of local organisations and that have not been tested with the community. I understand that the Kidsgrove centre has the strong support of the local community, alongside the charitable community group that is co-ordinating the work to reopen it, and I commend this approach. I want to see more and better facilities across the country that will help people to get active, but I want them to be properly thought through and planned.

It is important, now more than ever, that we harness the positive power of sport to enable us to cope with, and recover from, the challenges covid-19 has brought us. As we begin to recover from the huge impact of coronavirus on all our lives over the past few months, sport and sports facilities will have a key role to play. I want to see communities supported to ensure that everybody, no matter what their ability or their background, feels able to get active and live healthy, happy and fuller lives.

I urge my hon. Friend to continue his conversations with Sport England, relevant local authorities and active partnerships, together with any other interested local parties, to identify a way forward. I know that Sport England colleagues stand ready to continue to support this project and to engage with those involved in it. I thank all hon. Members who have contributed to today’s debate—far more than I had expected when I originally heard about it. The points that have been raised today are well made. I hope that progress on this matter will be forthcoming. I am passionate that sport should be for everyone and that sport is at the heart of a happy and healthy nation. My hon. Friend should be applauded for his passion and his persistence in this matter and I look forward to continuing the dialogue with him so we can come to a positive outcome.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.