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By Ashlea Smith, Strategic Lead Children, Young People & Families, ukactive

This year we were delighted to partner with Nike for the Open Doors programme. Building on the success of previous years in getting young people active during the summer break, we aimed to make 2022 bigger and better – and what a year it’s been. We worked across four cities; Birmingham, Liverpool, London, and Manchester, to unlock school facilities and provide opportunities for young people to be active.

As this was the first year I’ve been involved in the programme, I was eager to see the programme in action. Being immersed in the live activity reminded me just how important it is to provide holiday activities for young people – creating a positive impact on health while unlocking dormant facilities across the nation. Funding can go such a long way in shaping the lives of children across the country who wouldn’t ordinarily get the chance to be a part of a programme away from the educational setting. During my visits, I was proud knowing that ukactive plays an integral role in making Open Doors happen.

What are young people showing us?

Two significant moments stood out to me across my visits this summer. One was my encounter with a young girl at New City Primary School in London. The pupil was assigned to be a sports leader whose role was to escort her group to the different stations as the activities rotated. Watching this young woman effortlessly model positive behaviour, support her peers and get them to listen to her instruction to keep them safe and supported during the activities really reinforced how important these experiences are.

Often, we focus on the primary benefits to the pupils engaging in these programmes, such as how much their physical, social and mental wellbeing has improved as a result of taking part, however, this moment amplified so much more. Not only was this individual getting the chance to try new activities herself, she was able to develop her confidence and apply her skillset to guide her peers – lifelong skills that will be transferrable throughout her personal and professional life.

There are very few moments during the school year where complete trust and empowerment is handed to a young person, platforms such as Open Doors create an environment to make this the norm.

The second encounter that stood out to me was a conversation that I had with a young girl, while she was in the line to take her shot in archery. I asked her what her favourite sport or activity was and she quite boldly told me that sports aren’t for girls. Rather than tell her she was wrong, I took the time to get to know her. We went through a number of activities and she told me those which she’s tried and, more importantly, those which excite her. I soon found that she thoroughly enjoys, among other things, gardening and swimming. We had a conversation about what ‘movement’ means to her, and I watched her face connect the dots as she realised that what she enjoys participating in does in fact come under the ‘sport and physical activity’ banner.

This highlighted to me just how easy it is for us to frame a person’s lifelong relationship with physical activity from an early age. If given the wrong messaging, or even slightly incorrect or negative messaging, we can create a detrimental foundation for children to take that mindset into their adult life. Sometimes all it takes is a conversation to help young people realise that what they are already doing is enough. However, our tendency is often to identify ‘what’s missing’ and to seek ways to get young people involved in even more activity before we’ve taken the time to understand what’s truly important to them. Programmes such as Open Doors allow us as to take the time to listen to the needs, preferences and ambitions of young people and apply youth voice to help us in creating more opportunities across the sector.

Lessons from this year’s programme

Seeing the many happy faces of the young people being in a safe and familiar environment, taking part in activities releasing them from holiday boredom, and allowing them to be unapologetically themselves with their peers is invaluable.

Through programmes such as Open Doors we create opportunities for young people to try new activities and explore things about themselves they may have never come to realise – whether that be that they have undiscovered talent in skateboarding, or that they have what it takes to become a future world leader.

By having supportive staff who genuinely listen to their needs, and make them feel heard is paramount to making these programmes successful. Likewise, the crucial involvement of role models such as John McAvoy, who aside from their sporting excellence and inspirational stories bring with them a humanistic, friendly and warm atmosphere, giving the young people someone to look up to.

It’s easy when you have bought into particular models, or approaches to support CYP participation to understand that more is required to have a broader impact, but the ‘how’ is not always so simple. That’s why ukactive, in partnership with Nike, created the ‘Blueprint’ resource (found here). This document will help others to apply the principles of success to their local school/community. We want to make life easier for those in a position to host such activity. It helps to share our learnings of what works well, and what we would do differently in the future to unlock more facilities across the country to get even more young people more active, more often.

Read the full report on Open Doors 2022 here.

 Download the Open Doors Blueprint here – a practical guide aimed at schools, local authorities, activity delivery partners and funding organisations.

Check out our video to see Open Doors 2022 in action: