When lockdown started in March, it would have been easy to simply stop all of our programmes and wait to see when we would be able to start everything again normally. After all, our delivery model is face to face group sessions led by athletes, so how could we do that differently?

This though would have meant not supporting the young people we work with, young people who were already facing disadvantage and would need our support more than ever. Very quickly, we worked out a plan to continue delivering, via a combination of Zoom calls, one to one catch ups and online forum support using Facebook groups or similar. All of our partners were offered a remote option by early April, with over half being able to support this offer.  Following this rapid response, our aim was to listen and learn from young people to understand how we could enhance our remote offer longer term. 

To do this we set up focus groups with three of our Get on Track programmes, in Folkestone, Scarborough and Torbay to get more of an understanding of how our virtual delivery was working. We always went to be youth led in the work that we do, so getting an understanding of how our short-term measures were received and the impact they were having, was crucial to deciding on a longer-term strategy. Overall, the feedback from the young people has been really positive:

  • It’s great that we can speak to the athletes and they are still there for us
  • I like the option we have now for a 1:1, the athletes are there to support us and speaking up in a big group like we would do in the face to face sessions can cause anxiety
  • The sessions gave me the motivation to go outside and do some physical activity as others are doing the same
  • The Zoom calls have been a fantastic idea as it has helped me continue my progression

Obviously, it’s not the same as delivering face to face and some of the feedback reflected that:

  • I am quite shy and on Zoom it is harder to interact with others, but it’s better than the phone, I still prefer face to face interactions
  • I miss the physical activity sessions we did in the face to face sessions, it’s not the same online and we are missing out on some really fun activities
  • We don’t have as much time together in the virtual sessions, but I understand we can’t stay on zoom all day

What the feedback from the young people and also our athletes have shown us, is that there is definitely a place for virtual delivery in our portfolio. Shorter, more regular Zoom calls allow us to offer more frequent support to our groups, and we have seen from the feedback the benefit of more regular touch points. Following the feedback from the young people, we have also ensured the programme curriculum can switch to face to face at any point.  Importantly, we have also introduced an IT fund to ensure young people aren’t digitally excluded from our programmes.

As lockdown begins to ease, we are in a position now, in conjunction with our local partners, to start recruiting again for new Get on Track for Wellbeing programmes. We have adapted the content of the programmes and while the outcomes remain the same - to increase physical activity, mental wellbeing and help young people become more connected to their communities - the way in which we do that will be changing. We will make more use of virtual delivery techniques such as Zoom calls, online forums and increase the frequency of the contact with the groups. Where restrictions allow, we will offer a combination approach of face to face and remote sessions to enable more and varied physical activity to take place. We are also planning to offer 100% virtual programmes which enables us to work with young people in areas geographically previously out of our reach.    

At the time of writing this article, we have nine remote programmes lined up in the North West, Yorkshire, North East and South East, with the first one due to start in early August.   

We would like to thank Sport England for their support at this time. Their funding has allowed us to take an innovative approach with our programmes and enabled us to find solutions that will allow us to support more young people during this difficult time.