Volunteers recognised for sporting role in healthier lifestyles

Members of the Harrogate-based Community Fit including one of its founders, James Tilburn, centre. The group sees people spend one evening a week running, cycling or walking up to three miles to a local charity or community group to take an hour helping them out.

Tens of thousands of volunteers have been praised for their work to support grassroots sport to improve health across North Yorkshire and bring communities together to tackle social isolation.

Work is under way to highlight the importance of physical activity and to encourage people to be more active to improve their well-being.

And more than 100,000 volunteers are playing a vital role in supporting grassroots sport in North Yorkshire and promoting a more active lifestyle.

The network of sports clubs and organisations across England’s largest county is being seen as an extremely important resource to achieve the aims of helping North Yorkshire’s residents adopt healthier lifestyles.

It is hoped that the chance to join a sports club will also help people engage with other like-minded individuals to tackle social isolation across North Yorkshire.

North Yorkshire Council’s director of public health, Louise Wallace, has identified the need to encourage people to become more active as one of the key priorities to boost people’s health.

The council’s executive member for health and adult services, Cllr Michael Harrison, said: “The importance of a healthy lifestyle is well documented, and we are committed to encouraging people across North Yorkshire to embrace this and to be more active wherever they can.

“Grassroots sports plays such an important role in this, as it helps people engage in their local communities and find inspiration from others to help them keep active.

“I would hope that the summer of sport we are seeing, whether that be with the wonderful tennis tournament at Wimbledon that finished last weekend, the Ashes cricket for both the men’s and women’s teams and the start of the women’s football World Cup, will also showcase how important sport can be to inspire everyone.”

Guidelines from the NHS state that adults aged from 19 to 64 should undertake some form of physical activity every day, and exercise just once or twice a week can reduce the risk of serious medical conditions, such as heart disease or stroke.

Research by the Sport and Recreation Alliance, which represents the sport and recreation sector nationally and petitions to get the nation more active at a grassroots level, has also shown the importance of a healthier lifestyle.

The research revealed that grassroots sport and recreation deliver a wide range of benefits, including improved physical and mental well-being.

The study showed that physical inactivity is the fourth largest cause of disease and disability in the UK – 33 per cent of men and 45 per cent of women are not active enough for good health. Physical inactivity costs the UK an estimated £7.4 billion a year, while exercise can be as effective as anti-depressants for those with mild clinical depression.

According to data from Sport England’s Active Lives research, a total of 114,000 people in North Yorkshire volunteered to support sport between November 2021 and November 2022, which equates to more than a fifth of the county’s adult population.

North Yorkshire Sport’s chief executive, David Watson, said: “Volunteering in grassroots sport can be hugely rewarding, enabling people to use their transferrable skills in a new environment whilst at the same time meeting new people, making new friends and inspiring others to be more active.

“Volunteering provides another way to be involved beyond playing or simply being a spectator. Active involvement in sport, as a participant or a volunteer, has been proven to improve physical and mental health and generally improve people’s well-being.

“I would encourage anyone who wants to get involved or to know more to get in touch either with North Yorkshire Sport or the council and we will be happy to help.”

Among the voluntary organisations that are involved in promoting a healthy lifestyle is the Harrogate-based Community Fit.

The scheme was launch 12 months ago and sees people spend one evening a week running, cycling or walking up to three miles to a local charity or community group to take an hour helping them out.

“A lot of what we do is outside, so we recently dug out a pond next to a church, for example,” said 45-year-old James Tilburn, one of the founders of the group.

“It is a really big social activity. There are people from different backgrounds, fitness levels and age groups, we are very inclusive when it comes to accessibility and that is also taken into account when we are picking what task to do to make sure everyone can take part.”

The group takes suggestions from local groups and charities which need help before deciding where to set off for that week’s good deed. Activities range from sorting donations to moving furniture, painting, tree planting or litter picking.

Mr Tilburn, who works for North Yorkshire Council in the strategic resources team, said it has grown from a group of just four or five regulars to now almost 50 people who are signed up and who take part when they are available.

He added: “We want to do more to help Harrogate’s elderly population, so that is definitely what we are looking at next.”

More information about volunteering in North Yorkshire is available at www.northyorks.gov.uk/TeamNorthYorkshire online.

More information on Community Fit is available at www.communityfit.uk online.