Innovative sport and physical activity interventions

By Dean Ashton - on 09/05/2017

Within the housing sector, the role that sport and physical activity interventions can play in engaging and improving the health and wellbeing of vulnerable and disadvantaged people is increasingly being recognised.

HACT is currently working with a range of sporting organisations as well as housing providers to better understand and evidence the value of delivering sport and physical activity to our residents and the communities in which we work. As part of this wide body of work, we are keen to share examples of best practice and ways of working.

Dean Ashton, National Sport Development Manager at Salvation Army Housing Association, has developed an innovative intervention that is aimed at supporting particularly vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals. Here Dean shares the background research underpinning this intervention and the benefits that it provides both individuals and communities.

Who am I?

My name is Dean Ashton and I have been working in the supported housing sector for the past 8 years, starting my employment journey as a support worker for a homeless charity know as Chapter 1 in Manchester, working my way up to become a national sport development manager for a large housing charity known as Salvation army housing association.

What has been conducted?

For the past few years we have developed and offered a menu of sporting and physical activities and training programmes as a means of engaging Chapter 1 clients in imaginative, health-improving and fun activities (StreetGames; Doorstep Sports, Street2Feet and Equality FC []). The general interest and development of the activity has been based on the personal understanding, interest and experience of a residents own perception of physical activity.

The programmes have largely been viewed as “add-on” to the main purpose of supporting residents into independent living, primarily being seen as a way to encourage those who are keen on sport in the first place, rather than as a means to an end in themselves.

Working towards the development of a routine for individuals outside of society rules against an average person who lives within certain conventions is considered to be an influential point when increasing a homeless person’s well-being. Previous studies have explained that the introduction of a regular football programme has offered a positive outlook on life through a routine with rules within the game that give homeless participants an objective or goal to work with. The intervention forced a direct timetable for participants to stick too, setting clear goals to attend and providing sports that are rule based. The favourable profiles of this regular routine was not only associated with a positive mood states but this also impacted on the individuals every-day life.

This became a theme in the research which was conducted by myself and is relatively consistant with football programmes within the homeless sector but it is also percieved that such programmes can be more detrimental to mental health issues if unrealistic goals are set such as if a player’s team loses. My research looked at variety and individual activities which offered greater results to motivate interest for the differing individuals living in supported accommodation.

The study conducted was successful in providing improvement in psychological wellbeing with increased physical activity levels with the lowest mood states at baseline. However, it is the first study of its kind and much more can be learnt from similar studies. The study provides a base for future research and has the potential application for programmes to be implemented in the mental health field and social support with homeless charities.

Mental health care workers/support workers would be well placed to refer homeless males to such programmes and to work with instructors with experience in exercise prescription to conduct these programmes.

Why is our project needed in our area and by our target audience?

It is clear from our many years experience of working with homeless and disadvantaged people that provision of a place to live is only the first step in helping people take control of their lives, becoming healthier and self-sufficient. This client base historically suffers from poor physical and mental health, having limited structure to their lives, poor nutrition and typically lacking motivation to make the changes needed to improve their lives.

By engaging this group in both taking part in sport and hands-on development and management of sessions we have seen a number of outcomes for service users, volunteers and community:

  • Improved health
  • Crime prevention
  • Increased confidence and self-esteem
  • Structure and self-management
  • Skills to assist in gaining employment and setting up other community programmes
  • Accredited qualifications
  • Improved social interaction leading to reduced isolation
  • Ethos of volunteering and helping others

Local community benefits through reduced anti-social behaviour, stronger community cohesion, access to a volunteering framework, sporting opportunities and a legacy of sustainable community opportunities.

How are these programmes conducted?

This intervention, focuses on the contribution that improved nutrition, accessible sport, physical activity and exercise can have on mental and physical health and well-being.

The health & well-being programme will target clients who require a greater knowledge base of health and well-being to incorporate skills to make sustainable changes. From the research we have created a programme called SuPORT programme who will work with;

Vulnerable participants who require a foundation of support to make health changes and to include a platform for accessible sport, physical activity and exercise. The programme will offer further volunteer and qualification opportunities in preparation for greater independence.

SuPORT programme will help to:-

  • Increase contact and build greater trust with support workers, case workers, sports coaches and teachers, so assisting candidates to better plan their futures and address personal issues.
  • Gain qualifications which will increase their employability and so improve their chances of progressing onto independent living.
  • Develop improved social and personal skills, through increased social contact with others.
  • Gain in self-esteem, by supporting and leading sports sessions in the community.
  • Have better awareness of the importance of personal health in relation to independent living.

If you would like more information about the work that Dean does or the SuPORT programme, get in touch with Dean at

If you would like to know more about the work that HACT is doing around sport and housing, get in touch with HACT’s Research Officer, Frances Harkin at

Sport interventionshousing and sportactivity interventionsphysical activitysupported housing

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