A click and point approach to shaping up

Mick Owen found himself dragged into a competition to get a county he does not live in more active more often. Happy to oblige and with a point to prove, he ran down to talk to the head of the county sports partnership behind it.

Getting caught up with Shape Up Notts


Simon Starr, CSP director

One of the joys of being a ‘consultant’ in the business we call sport is the width and variety of people you get the chance to work with and the paths some of these people lead you down. Not long since I was working with a colleague whose practice is based in Nottingham who had got her work-mates involved in something called Shape Up Notts! Before I could say “Nordic walking” I had been sent an invitation to “sign up and shape up” and without much thought had clicked through and signed my life away.

For the next three months my free time was not my own as my colleague, her staff team and of course Shape Up Notts themselves bombarded me with exhortations to get active and, more importantly, get recording. Why should it matter whether or not I made sure to collate my activities on the admittedly easy-to-use website? Because every single scintilla of exercise attracts ‘points’ and, in the words of a long-gone game show, points make prizes. Not that I particularly want to win an entry in the Robin Hood Marathon, you understand, but I soon developed a deep-seated yen to out-exercise both Nottingham Rowing Club and the good people of Postcode NG3; the former because at university the rowers looked fitter, were much stronger and always had prettier girl-friends than me and the people of NG3 because they are insufferably smug about their group jogs and their touch rugby team and their corporate style early morning Tai-bloody-Chi on the banks of the Trent. And people like that just need beating.

The more rational among you will recognise the symptoms of over-competitiveness that have spoiled so many games of lunch-time five-a-side but that’s what happens when someone keeps score. Of course, thanks to Sport England’s latest strategy volte-face, it is once again acceptable to behave like adolescent boys and do anything to win but since Shape Up Notts was set up under the old regime its ethos is far more supportive, with an emphasis on physical activity for health rather than sport for sport’s sake. Which makes it even more interesting given the driving force behind the website is the Nottinghamshire county sports partnership, one of a threatened species as we approach the second half of 2008.

Simon Starr, director of the county sports partnership, told me that the Shape Up Notts initiative has been a huge success. “Over 2,500 people from all walks of life have signed up, everyone from triathletes using it as their training record – which means it can get very competitive at the top of the leaderboard – to  ‘four fat blokes in Finance’ who just want to get fitter. The return on investment has been huge for an initial outlay of less than £20k plus staff time and we have had a raft of celebrity endorsements, from Lee Westwood to Torvill and Dean, from Ian Wright to Mr Motivator.”

It seems that one Gordon Brown has also voiced his support. With 17,500 pedometers being handed out and some fantastic numbers racked up in terms of media coverage, it seems that this is campaign which has clearly taken off.

“We have had coverage in the Nottingham Evening Post every single week of the year,” Simon said. “In some weeks we had articles and features on all six days. We made the front page on about ten occasions and put sport into the body of the paper, rather than just the back pages. The other weekly papers across the county gave us coverage, with the Mansfield Chad being very supportive and the team did numerous radio interviews. We had television coverage for a free swimming initiative with local authorities, where all their pools opened free on the first weekend of the summer holidays.

“We’ve calculated that the media coverage gained during 2007 for the campaign was worth in excess of £1million. Our website is currently averaging 23,000 visitors per month and we generated over 400,000 hits last month alone. We’re currently running a workplace challenge to find the most active businesses in the county with £5,000 in prize money from the GMB Union and since it all started we have run a large number of competitions, promotions and offers providing members with discounted offers, free tickets to sporting events and sporting merchandise.”

Given that Simon is currently lying ninety-fourth in the thirty-day listing, he showed no sign of tiring so I asked why he had taken his CSP down this albeit highly successful route; after all the ‘S’ is for Sport.

“Sport Nottinghamshire wanted to turn what was potentially a bad news story from the Active People Survey – that only one in five are doing ‘three by thirty’ – into a call to action,” he explained. “I wanted to be able to say, ‘We are doing something about it.’" The Nottingham Evening Post is a newspaper that runs a lot of campaigns so I suggested to them that we needed a major physical activity campaign and they loved the idea.”

But is he as sanguine about the future of the campaign in Sport England’s brand new world where we deliver “sport for sport’s sake” and leave the physical activity agenda to our friends in health? Simon was reassuring: “I’m ‘sport-billy’ through and through, but I recognise that just advocating participation in sport isn’t going to work for the majority of people who are currently inactive or doing very little. To appeal to the masses we have to encourage them to engage in both sport and physical activity, knowing that the latter is very often the stepping stone to the former. I see us continuing to run the campaign if we can get the continued media support. We may need to use resources other than Sport England’s to develop it any further but equally we may create a sports club challenge, working with NGBs to find the most active sports clubs across the county.”

And with that we parted as it was time for my run. Another 355 points this week and I’ll have run twice round Beeston and gone above some bloke called Mr A Adkins.


Mick Owen is managing editor of The Leisure Review and a recovering sportsman; his rugby playing is currently in remission.

The Leisure Review, July 2008



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“Over 2,500 people from all walks of life have signed up, everyone from triathletes using it as their training record – which means it can get very competitive at the top of the leaderboard – to  ‘four fat blokes in Finance’ who just want to get fitter.”

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