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Nigel Huddleston speech to Sport for Development Conference

Nigel Huddleston, Minister for Sport, Tourism, Civil Society and Youth

Minister for Sport, Tourism, Heritage and Civil Society, Nigel Huddleston (@HuddlestonNigel) speaks to the CEO Forum at the Sport for Development Conference. Nigel discusses the power of sport to break down barriers for disadvantaged communities, level up the country and change lives.

Nigel Huddleston’s speech from the event: 

Thanks for that introduction – and for inviting me to speak at your inaugural conference. It is a pleasure to be at this event, which really embodies exactly what we’re talking about today: the power of sport to break down barriers for disadvantaged communities, level up the country and change lives.

It has been an incredibly challenging 18 months for the sector. It will be no surprise to anyone here when I say that my expectations when I was first appointed Sports Minister back in February 2020, with no idea a global pandemic loomed around the corner, were vastly different to how it has played out!

But if COVID has taught me anything, it’s the crucial role that sport and exercise play in our lives. Exercise is so important for our general wellbeing – which is why it was so tough when the strict but necessary restrictions were imposed on us all last year.

And that’s also why it was such a relief when sporting facilities reopened; when people were reunited with their football teams, returned to swimming pools, and then when our stadiums began to welcome back fans.

I am immensely grateful for the volunteers and charity staff who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic. They have been absolute heroes and the backbone of our communities.

The Government recognised the important role that you have in communities with the Coronavirus Community Support Fund. As part of our wider £750 million of direct support for charities during the pandemic, this government’s funding meant that organisations could continue their vital work helping more than six million people in need.

Over the past five years, the National Lottery Community Fund has awarded over 11,000 grants to support sporting activities, totalling £654 million. I visited one recipient last month when I went to Empire Fighting Chance, a fantastic grassroots boxing club in Bristol who do outstanding work with young people.

I spoke to one young lady there in particular who spoke powerfully about the ability of sport – boxing in her case – to transform her mental and physical health. Boxing has given her the tools she needs to overcome the obstacles in her life, at school and at home, and seize opportunities that otherwise would have passed her by. It was a brilliant example of how sport and civil society can work together.

So, as our new Secretary of State has made very clear since taking up her post, and as the Prime Minister himself is demonstrating, this government believes in the power of sport and physical activity. We know it has the potential to bring communities together, transform people’s lives and level up the country.

That is why we opened up sport and physical activity as early as we could when restrictions were easing, and ensured more than £1 billion has gone into supporting the sector through COVID: from the grassroots all the way to the elite level.

So now onto the recovery. Looking ahead, we want to build back better – which means being as a nation fitter, healthier and stronger. This doesn’t stop at improving the nation’s health and wellbeing. The Secretary of State and I have been clear that we want sport and activity to be open to all.

I was lucky enough to see firsthand the success of our athletes at the Olympics and Paralympics this summer in Tokyo. These sporting role models come from all over the UK and from every demographic, not just London or from a wealthy background.

But there is room for improvement. As the Prime Minister has said, while talent is evenly spread, opportunity isn’t. It can be much more difficult for children from disadvantaged backgrounds to make the most of their potential. That might be because they can’t afford the kit, can’t get to the right facilities, or can’t afford the lessons that other children have.

This is what levelling up means for sport and physical exercise – children should be able to compete on a level playing field from day one.

No matter where you’re from, or what stage of life you’re at, you should have an equal chance to participate in sport, and indeed to rise to the very top. The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and I share this vision, and I know that this aligns with your objectives too.

The Government launched the strategy Sporting Future in 2015 and we’ve achieved a huge amount since then. Since 2015, Sport England has allocated over £1.5 billion to nearly 5,000 organisations across the UK. Wherever we can, we have looked to grow participation, to open up physical activity to underrepresented groups.

But as we come out of this pandemic, we have a prime opportunity to refresh this strategy and build on the foundations already laid. We’re in the very early stages of this process, and of course our primary focus remains helping the sector recover from the pandemic. But as we look to the future and a refreshed government sporting strategy, we will be working closely with the sector for your input as we level up facilities, sport infrastructure and seek to build the active and healthy nation we would like to see.

It’s too early to set a firm end date for this work, but it’s likely to be early in 2022, and I look forward to updating you all on our progress.

There is huge potential in creating greater join up between youth and sport, to create an impactful and cohesive offer for young people. A great example of this is the English Football League Trust, which has delivered the National Citizen Service to more than 60,000 young people in their communities over the last decade.

I’m proud that the Chancellor announced in the budget £560 million of funding to invest in building a new and improved youth offer that reflects young people’s priorities, with a firm focus on levelling up. Through the Youth Investment Fund we will create and expand youth facilities, including levelling up opportunities in left behind areas.

I sincerely hope VCSE organisations supporting young people through sport seize the opportunity to feature strongly as part of that offer, whether in helping deliver the National Citizen Service programme or through the Youth Investment Fund.

I was delighted to be asked to take on ministerial responsibility for civil society – not only because I am proud to support this country’s outstanding charities, social enterprises, and volunteers – but because civil society ties together so much of my own brief, and the mission of government as a whole.

We all know that these organisations make up the backbone of community sport across the country. Without them millions of people would lose opportunities to engage in sport and live more active and healthy lifestyles.

The same is true in many of our sectors. Charities, social enterprises and community groups are at the forefront in using the arts, music and technology in creative ways, engaging people and addressing problems.

And civil society organisations will have a central role to play in levelling up all parts of our country over the years ahead – working with the Government to help remove barriers to opportunity that persist in many of our communities.

So I look forward to working with you on this agenda. I hope you’ll agree we are off to a good start.

Earlier this month, we announced £30 million for PE teacher training and to open up school facilities to provide access to the wider community. On top of a £30 million package to renovate 4,500 of the most dilapidated park tennis courts up and down the country, in the most deprived areas.

I know many of you are already doing a great job reaching and supporting those in need. So please keep up the good work and I hope we can harness the power of sport, so that everyone has the same chance to live a happy and healthy life, no matter where they come from. Thank you!

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