Exercise and Community Leisure Facilities; the impact of Covid-19

Stuart Haw’s academic career commenced only a few years ago, but his research is already having a profound impact within his local community.  

He is currently studying for a PhD, which is focusing on asset transfers of leisure facilities within the local community and investigating the capacity and capital that communities require to manage and run a facility previously owned by a local authority. 

Stuart’s research was recently put into practice within his hometown of Peterborough during the first lockdown of 2020.  Working with the local community, he put together a proposal for the City Council so leisure facilities across the city were able to re-open after the lockdown as quickly as possible. For Stuart, it was important that the people of Peterborough could get exercising again, as it was not only a boost for the physical health of the city’s residents, but it would also allow them to get their sense of community back which had been so dramatically disrupted since March.  

Since lockdown, his academic findings have been used to make the case for the importance of community leisure facilities. An announcement from Community Leisure UK stated that up to half of these community leisure providers may fail as a result of the pandemic which could result in up to 50,000 job losses in the sector. Stuart is however optimistic for the future, highlighting that having access to community leisure facilities is playing a much greater role in our lifestyles than before Covid-19. He welcomes the response from Professor Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, that physical activity ‘needs to be central to the government’s response to the pandemic,’ and that additional funding to fund sport and community organisations needs to continue post-pandemic.   

Stuart has made great strides in his relatively short career, and much of this he attributes to Birkbeck. By 2015, he had already graduated elsewhere with a degree in Physical Education, but he knew he was particularly interested in Sport Governance and that Birkbeck had one of the best Sports Management Centres in the country.  

He describes how a series of fortunate events took place whilst at Birkbeck that have led him to where he is today. Before he even started the course, he was able to apply for a hardship fund which enabled him to move down to London. Through Birkbeck Talent, the College’s in-house recruitment agency, he applied for an internship with the national sports governing body, British Fencing. This was at the exact same time that the Santander Talent scheme started, which meant his internship could also be fully funded. Birkbeck opened the door for Stuart to go from living and working in Peterborough to studying this course and being thrusted into the sports industry. 

Stuart is keen to build upon his success and has ambitions to put his academic research into practice on a national level, hoping that one day he will be able to influence policy about physical exercise, sports, and community asset transfers on a much larger scale.