Be active braced for Olympic bounce

By on 31/07/2012 in Cllr Bedser, News
Cllr Steve Bedser

Cllr Steve Bedser

The organisers of a multi-award winning sports scheme in Birmingham are preparing for an Olympic rush as people across the city are inspired by events in London.

Over 350,000 people already have signed-up for Be active - an innovative public health scheme offering FREE access to a range of physical activities at centres throughout Birmingham.

And Birmingham City Council Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, Cllr Steve Bedser, is urging armchair sports fans full of Olympic inspiration to make the most of the unparalleled offer.

He said: “I'm sure we're all enjoying the action as the finest athletes in the world battle it out for gold, silver and bronze in London, but there really is no substitute for participating in sport yourself.

“Be active now offers over 50 different activities and, while we're not all going to be Olympic heroes, it is possible for everyone in Birmingham to enjoy the many benefits of sports participation. We're expecting demand to be higher than ever thanks to the Olympics.

“The city-wide scheme has been a hit since it was launched in 2008, but we were aware that many people saw this as merely free gym and swim, so we've responded to customer feedback and broadened the scope of the scheme. Now there really is something for everyone.

“Summer is the ideal time to get out and about and get moving, and Be active is the perfect opportunity to feel the physical benefits, lose weight, get fitter and feel better. It's easy to join - just go along to your local leisure centre with proof of identity to get a leisure card.”

Over 350,000 people are now registered for the scheme, meaning one in three people across Birmingham enjoy free use of their council-run leisure facilities, attending gyms, swimming pools, walking groups, and fitness classes and reaping the health and wellbeing benefits it brings.

In addition to daily swim and gym sessions at all major leisure centres across the city, the new-look Be active scheme offers tennis, bowls, basketball, fencing, gymnastics, netball, badminton, table tennis, Tai Chi, yoga, boxercise, power plates, cycling, walking and much more at leisure centres and parks across the city.


For more information contact Geoff Coleman on 0121 303 3501

Notes to Editors

Details of FREE Be active sessions across the city can be found on the new website

Photographs can be downloaded here:

Be active is a city-wide scheme, designed to help everyone increase their physical activity for free. With such a wide range of activities to choose from there is something for everyone at every leisure centre across the city, to help you lose weight, reduce the risk of illness and even boost your confidence.

Be active is available to anyone who lives in a property eligible for council tax in Birmingham. You will need to take two forms of identification with you to your local leisure facility when you join Be active. All you need to access Be active is a Leisure Card which can be accessed from your local leisure centre.

The scheme was initially called Gym for Free and was launched in February 2008 in the Ladywood Constituency to 100,000 residents as a joint initiative between NHS Heart of Birmingham tPCT and Birmingham City Council.

Gym for Free offered free swimming, fitness classes, and gym sessions to all of the residents of the constituency as long as they exercised at least 4 times per month. There was no upper limit to the number of times they could attend exercise sessions and the only other criteria was residency within the constituency.

Initially there were only 95 people across Ladywood regularly exercising on the local authorities direct debit scheme (the closest benchmark). Within 6 months there were 7,000 people on the Gym For Free scheme. Demand was through the roof and people were queuing for up to 2 hours to access sessions.

By November 2008 the scheme was rolled out to the rest of the Heart of Birmingham PCT area, some 300,000 people.
The scheme continued to prove successful and won a number of awards for tackling health inequalities and also social marketing.


  • 60% on scheme from the Black and Minority Ethnic communities. Traditionally hard to reach groups, such as Bangladeshi and Pakistani women, are over-represented.
  • Average age of people in the gyms on the scheme is 49 but in the private gyms is 29.

In those signing up to the scheme:

  • 50% overweight or obese.
  • 50% had raised blood pressure.
  • 25% smoke.
  • 20% said health poor or very poor.
  • 20% suffered extreme/moderate anxiety and depression.
  • This means that those communities with the biggest health gain to make are the ones using the scheme the most.
  • 74.3% of users were not previously a member of a leisure centre, gym, or swimming pool before joining.

Results from the early qualitative evaluation demonstrated that:

  • Price is a barrier to participation.
  • Access to free exercise increased people's likelihood to participate.
  • Hard to reach groups including women and ethnic minority communities engaged with the scheme.
  • Regular exercise increased participants self reported sense of wellbeing.
  • Participation on the scheme increased participant demand for other lifestyle information such as smoking cessation and alcohol advice.
  • Discussions began with the 3 PCTs across Birmingham to see if there could be a city wide offer for residents using the Gym for Free pilot model.
  • On 1st September 2009 the scheme went live to all 1.1 million people in the city. The scheme was renamed Be active and all 50,000 members of the Gym for free scheme were transferred across.
  • The scheme now also provides classes at community centres and other venues that aren't leisure centres to ensure as much access to the community as possible.

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