by Catriona McAllister, CEO, Jersey Sport

Jersey’s new skatepark at Les Quennevais is so much more than a fantastic facility for skating enthusiasts; it’s a representation of Jersey’s commitment to a healthy, active population for decades to come. The skatepark is a great model for future sport and physical activity developments as it brings the community together in a way that is accessible to everyone regardless of income, age, gender or ethnic background. Whether you’re 2 or 72, you now have the opportunity to slide, carve and land on wheels, improving your skills alongside your physical fitness and enjoying the sociable aspect with family and friends.

Regular physical activity has numerous key benefits at both individual and societal levels. Having a healthy, active population across all demographics creates a ripple effect through key areas, including education, community and economy. For example, sports clubs and organisations are community hubs, binding families and communities, creating opportunities for volunteers and reducing anti-social behaviour and crime. The economic benefits to society are plentiful, with a reduced financial and physical strain on Jersey’s health service as well as the income and prestige gained from hosting sports games and events at a national or international level.

Healthy, active adults have fewer sick days, increased productivity and a better work-life balance. Children who move their bodies for at least an hour a day have better concentration and behaviour, and perform better at school, while those who take part in organised sport or physical activities learn additional key skills such as teamwork, self-motivation and communication that will continue to support them throughout their lifetime.

As CEO of Jersey Sport, I am proud that our organisation has been leading the way with accessible, affordable sport and physical activity provisions for children for many years. We believe that every child should have regular access to these activities – whether that’s within school term time, school holidays or as extra-curricular programmes. With the current cost of living crisis, these provisions are just one way in which we can support parents during these difficult times.

Growing up in Scotland, I was lucky enough to have access to many different types of sports and particularly loved football, rugby and hockey which I played to a high level. I believe that children should be exposed to as many different types of sport as possible when they’re young so that they can give it a try and figure out what they most enjoy. No one is excellent at a particular sport when they first start, so trying and failing multiple times is important – both during childhood and as adults. That’s why we began our School to Sport initiative in 2020 to help combat inactivity amongst the island’s school children and introduce more children to sport, as part of the Inspiring an Active Jersey Strategy.

The School to Sport scheme helps to break down barriers to playing sport that some of our island’s children face. Our pilot scheme with Plat Douet School enabled youngsters to try a range of sports over the school year, all within walking distance, and included sports such as table tennis and squash. At the end of the year, children were offered a year’s free membership to the sport they wanted to continue playing, along with the kit and equipment needed to play. The scheme, funded through the National Games Changers Grant and secured by Jersey Sport and the Commonwealth Games Association of Jersey, helps to raise awareness of different sports available in the island and has the potential to change the trajectory of a child’s life.

In an ideal world, children should be introduced to a variety of physical activity opportunities from just a few months old as this plays a vital role in their physical development and core motor skills. Plus, meeting up with other parents and children is an important part of a child’s social development, as well as being a great opportunity for new mothers and parents who might otherwise feel isolated.

In Jersey, accessibility for private activity sessions – such as dance, swimming and music classes – is limited to those who have adequate financial resources, private transport and the time to attend these activities, which are often scheduled during the working day. That’s why we introduced free Toddler Play sessions suitable for crawling babies up to age five, providing fun, engaging and safe active play opportunities for families. In 2022, 5443 children participated in our Toddler Play sessions, which run Monday to Friday during the week.

Finding solutions to all our island’s issues is not easy, but improving access and affordability to high quality sports and physical activity facilities for every islander is one huge step in the right direction. Creating cultural shifts won’t happen overnight, but I’m confident that Jersey is taking strides to becoming one of the healthiest and most active places in the world.

This article was originally published in the Jersey Evening Post on 18 February 2023.


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