Five years ago an ambitious new programme was launched with the aim of transforming the physical activity landscape of people in the North East.
Since then more than 18,000 people have been helped to improve their health and fitness by taking part in a wide range of sports and activities with the Move into Sport programme, which is changing lives.
From badminton to netball, rock climbing to table tennis, running to aquafit, thousands of people across County Durham are now leading healthier lives after getting hooked on a wide range of sports and activities.
Easily accessible in the community and either free or low-cost, they have proved that there really is an activity for everyone and that little steps can soon turn into giant strides when it comes to improving your health.
Launched in 2009 the £4.3m three-year Changing the Physical Activity Landscape (CPAL) programme was funded by NHS County Durham and Darlington and managed by County Durham Sport.
It aimed to tackle some of the highest rates of cardio-vascular disease in the UK which exist in County Durham in people aged 40-74 through increased physical activity delivered through a range of locally funded projects.
People are able to self-refer to the Move into Sport programmes if they think they are inactive, overweight, at risk of cardiovascular disease or have type 2 diabetes.
Due to the success of the original CPAL programme, when the funding came to an end in 2013, new funding streams were found from Sport England and Durham County Council Public Health to further develop some of the most effective elements under the Move into Sport and Move4Life programmes.
Andrew Power, strategic manager for physical activity for County Durham Sport said: “Areas within County Durham have some of the lowest sport and physical activity participation levels in the country and this is reflected in the wide range of health inequalities in the area.
“These programmes aim to provide the people of County Durham with a wide variety of recreational activities to take part in, that are accessible and sustainable.
“Since delivery started in February 2010 we have had fantastic results with over 18,000 people recruited to the CPAL, Move4Life and Move into Sport projects and people are successfully increasing their levels of physical activity after six months as a result.
“Move into Sport works by delivering a range of projects in the community from running to rowing, dancing to table tennis which people can participate in either for free or at a very low cost, depending on the activity.”
There are now over 60 Move into Sport providers throughout County Durham who are well on the way to delivering 270 beginner courses of recreational sports by early 2015.
Inspired by the younger generation Marie Dalton, 62, from Brandon near Durham City, is one of the growing number of parents and grandparents who have had enough of standing on the sidelines and are now taking up cricket to improve their health and fitness.
After years of watching her son playing the sport at school and club level Marie, who cites Mark Ramprakash and Paul Collingwood amongst her heroes, became hooked.
But now she has decided to head into the nets herself and is taking part in new Move into Sport sessions at Brandon Cricket Club aimed at those at risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
And the gentle exercise is already helping her to recover from a painful knee injury, that left her struggling even to walk up the stairs for over a year.
She said: “Now I am reaching the age where I am starting to stiffen up and I recognise for my health I have to get more active so I don’t lose my flexibility.
“I also lost my dad when he was in his early 60s and there is a history of strokes in the family and so I felt it was the time I really needed to do something.
“Since my son started playing I have loved cricket, but never once thought I would end up playing myself.
“These sessions are a lot of fun and anyone can come along and have a go. Cricket really is a sport for all ages.”
The Move into Sport sessions run at the same time as the junior training sessions meaning Marie can train alongside her grandsons Myles, nine, and Finlay, seven.
Father-of-three Simon Reid, 47, has also signed up. His children Liam, 18, Lauren, 15 and Callum, 13, all play for the club and so instead of just watching them in action, he can now pick up the bat himself.
“The kids kept saying to me ‘haway dad, get in the nets’ so I started throwing some balls down and enjoyed it. Then when the courses came up I thought I’d give it a go,” said Simon, a factory process operator, who lives in Brandon with his children and wife Julie.
“I never played cricket when I was younger, but thought if I can learn to play a bit then I can help them in their training too.”
The courses tailored around those who are starting out and in need of a little motivation have also been instrumental in helping people rediscover sports they enjoyed in their youth such as netball, badminton, cricket and table tennis.
County Durham grandmother Jean Wytcherley recently decided to pick up a club after watching her husband play the game at Headlam Hall Hotel and Golf Club, and joined a Move into Sport beginner course.
Jean, 63, a retired civil servant said: “It’s so addictive, I really have got the bug and I feel so much better after a round.
“You don’t realise how far you are walking as you are concentrating so much on playing golf and it’s really peaceful and calming being out in the open air. It’s also very sociable and you mix with people of all different ages.
“I wish I had started earlier, but it’s a game that hopefully I will be able to keep playing for a long time yet and will keep me fit as I get older.”
Brandon and Byshottles, Sacriston and Bishop Auckland Table Tennis Clubs are offering courses for adults to encourage people to come along and enjoy the game through the Move into Sport initiative.
Brandon and Byshottles Table Tennis Club chairman and coach, Tony Taylor, said: “I think GPs have a role to play in prescribing exercise to people rather than pills so they can have fitter lifestyles.
“Table tennis is widely acknowledged as being good exercise and a great stress buster. Quite simply it is a mentally and physically invigorating sport.”
A whole host of new projects are taking place across the county from as diverse activities as karate, urban dance, badminton and netball.
A number of years ago The Journal launched its Great North Fitness Revolution to urge people to keep active through regular exercise such as running. The campaign encourages people to keep active through regular exercise and a good diet.
To find out more about the Move into sport programme visit http://www.countydurhamsport.com/physical_activity/move_into_sport/