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.