Association for Public Service Excellence
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The Future of Sport and Leisure Research Project

About the research project

“The COVID-19 pandemic has arguably amplified inherent fault lines in the provision of traditional sport and leisure services, where a relentless focus on efficiency and budget savings is undermining the resilience of those services offered whilst simultaneously raising questions about whether they are delivering enough of the outcomes they should be.

As part of a mixed economy of provision, Public Sport and Leisure services have a key role to play in the supporting the delivery of better place-based outcomes, but the narrative about this role is often inconsistent. Critically there remains stubborn challenges when it comes to addressing physical inactivity with the impact of the pandemic striking our most deprived communities worst, thereby only serving to amplify existing levels of inactivity and inequality in those areas. This challenge raises very real questions about the positioning and effectiveness of the existing public sport and leisure sector both now and the future.

By embracing a more collaborative, systems based approach to addressing physical inactivity local authorities and their stakeholders can exert powerful influence and help fundamentally shape the look and feel of a locality, bringing about a healthier, more sustainable, economically stronger and more inclusive place. This work will help illustrate this work and thereby provide greater context for the delivery of public Sport and leisure services. 

Ambition of the research project

Through discussions with sector leaders and stakeholders, APSE, CLOA and the LGA will explore how sport and leisure services have changed in recent years in addition to the current challenges faced by local authorities. The research will also look at the future direction of travel and potential contributions traditional sport and leisure can play locally.

The research will attempt to provide evidence based guidance for Councils (by Councils) at a time when many Councils will be reviewing these services. It will help Councils to reflect on what they are currently delivering and whether there is a need to more radically consider the role they can play in supporting better place-based outcomes, including post COVID recovery.

The research proposal will build upon a “traditional” view/model of the sport and leisure service. In summary this will cover the following areas:

  • Provision of Leisure Centres, Pools and Sports facilities, indoor and outdoor.
  • Sports development/community sport.

However, given the increasing scope and reference to addressing physical inactivity and wellbeing, the work will also reference the following:

  • High level assessment of National and local strategies that would impact on service design and delivery e.g., new Sport England Strategy, Public Health Outcomes framework, Local Health and Wellbeing plans, Climate emergency, Economic policy, Transport Policy, Planning policy.
  • The role of Physical activity in place making and meeting wider outcomes.
  • The strategic development of Physical Activity and how it is led nationally and locally. Through discussions with sector leaders and stakeholders, APSE, CLOA and the LGA will explore how sport and leisure services have changed in recent years in addition to the current challenges faced by local authorities.
Parameters of work


To register your interest in keeping up to date with this research project or to offer information, case studies and participation in research related events and roundtables please visit our “Resource Hub for Sports and Leisure Services” fill in your details and we will ensure you are kept up to date with the programme of work.

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Promoting excellence in public services

APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) is a not for profit unincorporated association working with over 300 councils throughout the UK. Promoting excellence in public services, APSE is the foremost specialist in local authority frontline services, hosting a network for frontline service providers in areas such as waste and refuse collection, parks and environmental services, cemeteries and crematorium, environmental health, leisure, school meals, cleaning, housing and building maintenance.






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