Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Take to the Streets

Big Bren was in town today. It's not often that Darlington Partnership has a celebrity guest speaker, but Brendan Foster CBE had an important proposal for the assembled great and the good.

Everyone knows that Brendan is the moving power behind the phenomenally successful Great North Run, and the initiative has blossomed into other events like the Great North Walk, which Darlington has hosted for the last two years.

Now Brendan and the company Nova are putting together a truly audacious scheme to get 2 million people in the UK active by the time of the British Olympic Games in 2012. We learnt that one of the myths of the Olympic Games is that hosting nations somehow become healthier - in fact activity levels tend to go down after Games are held. The Government wants to see a 20% increase in physical activity over the next 5 years.

So last year over 510,000 school children took part in the Great School Run, which comprised a series of activities culminating in a series of mass races. This year, the organisers are hoping for 700,000 taking part, and it is possible that Darlington will host one of the legs.

The presentation to the Partnership had been organised by Pete Barron, Northern Echo editor, following a meeting with Brendan in Newcastle. Pete explained to Brendan the work of the LSP Enquiry Groups here in Darlington, and the outcome of the Health and Leisure group in particular, which had as its ambition that Darlington be the healthiest town in the country. Brendan was evidently impressed, and the idea developed that Darlington could be an "exemplar" town for Brendan's Take to the Streets initiative. It will require up to 6,000 residents to sign up to a healthier lifestyle, perhaps through the medium of mass events, like the 10k road race or the Hell O' Th' North cycle event.

It's an exciting initiative, and one to which the Partnership unanimously agreed. In moving that we take the idea forward, Council Leader John Williams stressed that all elements of the Partnership, private, public and voluntary would need to play their part.

As the relevant Cabinet Member, I'll have a key role seeing these plans into action, which will be a substantial challenge ovre the next 12 months. Darlington already has gained national recognition for its ability to change behaviour for the better through its Local Motion campaign on transport, and I feel sure the community can rise to this challenge too.


miketually said...

Will I see you lining up for the Hell O' The North in September, Nick? I did it for the first time in 2006 in ten hours and got my time down to 8.5 hours last year, with my 2.5 mile each way commute as pretty much my only regular 'training'. It's a great feeling to finish it, and quite surreal to see the route on a map afterwards and realise just how far you have ridden.

Some colleagues and a couple of friends have taken part in the Great North Run and have also got a lot out of that.

miketually said...

Having said that, and putting on my cynical hat...

I worry when activity and exercise are linked to sport and to big, annual events, rather than simply to increasing day-to-day activity.

I'm sure that we would see much bigger health benefits were cycling and walking to be a greater part of our everyday transportation, rather than increasing the perception that they are wholy separate parts of our lives.

I'd rather see more people cycling in high heels than cycling in lycra.

miketually said...

The Northern Echo: Darlington first to join national health improvement campaign

Darlington Cycling Campaign: Take To The Streets

Aeres said...

Yes, I agree with Mike I think. Better to spend the money on the infrastructure to enable day to day activity than a one-off event or consultation exercises, etc.

If you really wanted to be radical, the system that Paris has adopted of being able to rent cheap bicycles for short time periods seems like a fantastic idea. Not sure of the costs or practicalities of bringing it here but it would certainly put Darlington on the map alright if we were the first town in England to adopt it. Worthy of discussion anyway.

Oh, and like the link Mike. I'm just off now to Expedia to book my holiday in Copenhagen for the Summer... :-)

Darlington Councillor said...

Thanks for the comments.

It's not clear yet how the initiative will roll out. It's fair to say that Brendan's initiative is based on mass activities, that is probably only going to be one way in whch we approach the general drive to improve the town's health - we will be learning from the Local Motion scheme and changing behaviour as far as transport choices are concerned how we can work most effectively, especially in communities where health problems are at their worst, and levels of physical activity are lowest.

I saw the bike scheme in Paris - I know some British cities have tried something simililar with distinctly mixed results. We have a team at the Town Hall who think pretty radically on the subject of promoting cycling, so no doubt they'll be aware of the idea and whether it's feasible in Darlington.