Universities can make UK fitter and healthier, says campaign

Universities UK and British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) lead MadeAtUni campaign to highlight sector’s vital role in sport, health and wellbeing

A new campaign launched today by Universities UK (UUK) and British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) highlights the contribution universities make to the nation’s community sport and physical activity.

The MadeAtUni campaign aims to tell the “untold story” of how university sports facilities support grassroots sports clubs and can “fill gaps left by closure of traditional leisure facilities following Covid”.

The campaign is backed by champion rower Dame Katherine Grainger, who is Great Britain’s joint most decorated female Olympian, as well as chancellor of the University of Glasgow and chair of UK Sport.

Dame Katherine said: “Many people know that universities develop some of our greatest Olympians and Paralympians, but there is an untold story about their work in local communities that improves peoples’ lives through sport and physical activity.

“The pandemic has disrupted all areas of life, and our physical and mental wellbeing has suffered a great deal. The role universities play in bringing communities together to get fitter, healthier and happier will be more important than ever in the months and years ahead as we emerge and recover from Covid-19.”

Universities invested £350 million in their sports facilities between 2016 to 2018 (BUCS and Complete University Guide survey, 2019), and 81% of universities’ sports facilities are used by community groups and grassroots sports clubs (BUCS analysis of Complete University Guide data).

The MadeAtUni campaign says universities, their facilities, staff and students are well placed to support government efforts to get the nation active again as traditional community leisure centres struggle with the economic impact of the pandemic.

Innovations showcased in the campaign include work by Oxford Brookes University to increase activity levels of children with neurological conditions, and ‘Snacktivity’ – a mobile app developed by Loughborough University to tackle obesity and call for changes to food labelling to highlight the link between physical activity and calories.

The campaign also features partnerships between universities and professional football clubs in their communities, including Edge Hill University in Liverpool and Everton in the Community, and the University of Aberdeen and Aberdeen FC Community Trust.

We know there is a huge challenge for community clubs and many will not survive; universities can play a lead role in helping support their communities through this challenge – Vince Mayne, BUCS

“For years universities have been improving the nation’s health and wellbeing through their science, research and community-led projects, including public use of sports facilities,” said Professor Julia Buckingham CBE, president of Universities UK.

“Prior to the pandemic over 80% of university sports facilities were being used by local grassroots clubs, and we want to make it clear to government that universities can help resolve the pandemic’s impact on physical activity levels by filling gaps left by the closure of traditional leisure facilities.”

It is estimated that over 725,000 students volunteer in their local communities every year, including many from university sports teams and societies.

“Whilst in the last year we may have lost sports competition, we have gained compassion and kindness – all of which are exemplified through students’ significant efforts to support local charities and organisations,” said Vince Mayne, chief executive, BUCS.

“They have played a huge part in helping communities across the country recover from the pandemic, and this really highlights how sport is a fantastic tool to bring students together to engage with local communities, volunteering thousands of hours of their time every year.

“Universities too are at the heart of their local community, providing access to great facilities for grassroots to high performance clubs, student coaches for teams, as well as players and athletes competing for their local communities outside of university competition. This facility and workforce element will be absolutely vital as we emerge from the restrictions and people want to return to playing sport. We know there is a huge challenge for community clubs and many will not survive; universities can play a lead role in helping support their communities through this challenge.”

The campaign is taking place between 12–16 July and includes the Club Charity Initiative Award at the annual BUCS Awards, which celebrate the positive effect of student sport and students who participate in the wider sporting sector in the UK.

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