24 Apr 2018 World leisure: news, training & property
 
 
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SELECTED ISSUE
Leisure Management
2016 Review

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Leisure Management - Dr William Bird

People profile

Dr William Bird


CEO, Intelligent Health

William Bird: why can’t gyms offer memberships around health walks?
The winning Beat the Street team receives a £1,000 prize
The winning Beat the Street team receives a £1,000 prize
The winning Beat the Street team receives a £1,000 prize

What’s the ethos of Intelligent Health?
We focus on building communities with activity at the heart of things. It isn’t just about health: if you have an active society, you have more volunteering, more people in the streets and the parks being connected with each other. People feel safer, there’s less antisocial behaviour. Essentially, an active society is a society we want to live in.

But to get new people into being active, activity has to be a by-product rather than the end in itself. It must be social, fun and have a purpose.

Can you give an example?
Our Beat The Street project is a perfect example. It isn’t ‘physical activity’: it’s nothing to do with step count, 150 minutes a week or diabetes prevention. It’s a game.

You have a smartcard which you tap on sensors – hundreds of which are built around the area, about half a mile apart – whenever you walk to school or the park or the shops. Every time you connect two beat boxes, you get 10 points that go to your team.

Each project runs for seven weeks and the winning team gets £1,000 – although we’ve found people aren’t as motivated by the prizes as by the fun of the game itself.

The seven-week timeframe is very important: any shorter and you don’t have enough time to create a habit in people; any longer and you get people who become dependent on the extrinsic reward of tapping the box, whereas we want them to quickly start thinking about doing their own thing. We target deprived areas of the UK and we give out smartcards to virtually every single child in that area.

Is it only for kids?
Not at all. Most GP surgeries have the smartcards too, as well as many of the community centres and libraries. However, it tends to be through the schoolchildren that we capture the adults – the kids get their parents, and even their grandparents, involved. In fact, that people were able to spend time with friends and family is one of the main benefits we hear from participants; in many cases, it’s even more important to them than the fact they feel healthier.

How many people take part?
We generally aim to get 30,000 to 40,000 playing by week two or three, and typically get almost 1 million smartcard swipes in the space of seven weeks – so around 20,000 a day. At a minimum, we’ll get 10 per cent of the community involved – and interestingly, 20 per cent of our participants have long-term conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

How do you know about participants’ health conditions?
Although the process is all anonymised, we have a lot of data about the participants, all of which is linked to the ID chips in their smart cards.

Using our data, wse’re able to show how, before a Beat the Street project starts, on average 35 per cent of the community will be active. By the end of the seven weeks that statistic goes up to 45 per cent. A year later, it’s still at the same level – those people are still being active. We always aim to create a habit and then we signpost people into trying out other activities, which could be anything from Zumba classes to nature walks in the local area.

We’re also introducing a facility whereby, after the seven weeks is up, local fitness providers can swipe people’s smartcards on their NFC phones to track attendance. If they can show lots of attendees who were previously inactive, or who have health conditions, they may be able to get NHS funding.

What are your plans for Beat the Street?
Last year we had 175,000 people playing Beat the Street in areas around the UK. This year we’re on track for about 300,000 people. We’ve also run it in Poland, Italy, Greece, Austria – all under an EU grant.

What can gyms learn from it?
We get people engaged with activity in a non-scary way and then signpost them towards other fun activities. If operators want people to choose the gym, they have to put the enjoyment back into their offering. Gyms have to start where people are, not where they want them to be. Why does membership have to mean going to the gym? Why can’t gyms offer memberships based around health walks outdoors, for example?


Originally published in Leisure Management 2016 issue 1

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