A community-based, sport-led programme to increase physical activity in an area of deprivation: A qualitative case study

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Background: Engaging in physical activity is essential for maintaining mental and physical health but a high proportion of adults are inactive, especially in areas of socioeconomic deprivation. We evaluated a novel exercise referral scheme funded by Sport England and run by a social enterprise in an area of socioeconomic deprivation in inner London. This study aimed to examine the experiences of participants and staff and to identify barriers and facilitators of implementation and participation in this and potentially similar projects. Methods: Thirty-five semi-structured interviews with project participants (N = 25) and staff members involved with the project (N = 10) were conducted based at one centre in London in 2017/2018. The interview schedule was informed by the Theoretical Domains Framework. Data was analysed using the Framework method and NVivo software. Results: Three themes emerged from the data: 'Not like your regular gym', Individual journeys and Practical aspects of the scheme. Study participants regarded the environment of the project centre as friendly and sociable. The project differed from a commercial gym by offering free or subsidised membership and the participation of people of all sizes and abilities. Classes were provided free of charge and this, together with mentor support, facilitated participation and continuation in the project. Participants reported changes not only in their physical activity level, but also in their physical and mental health. Additionally, their families' lifestyle changes were reported. Difficulties of accessing the project included lack of awareness of the project and lack of engagement from key referring groups. Conclusions: Providing free or subsidised classes incorporating individualised assessment, follow-up and support appeared to facilitate engagement in physical activity among socioeconomically deprived populations. The supportive social context of the centre was a major facilitator. Differing levels of abilities and health status among participants call for special attention. Increasing community and referrer awareness of available exercise referral schemes and enhancing communication between sources of referrals and project staff may help to address access issues.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1018
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2020


  • Exercise
  • Exercise referral scheme
  • Health promotion
  • Physical activity
  • Primary care
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Social enterprise
  • Social prescribing


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