Sport and physical activity 2020-21

In partnership with Sport England, the LGA has provided ongoing support to alumni of the Leadership Essentials programme, to help their leadership development during a crisis, all whilst developing a refreshed programme for a new established cohort of officers.


The LGA has a longstanding relationship with Sport England. In the last six years, over 20 successful Leadership Essentials Sport programmes have been offered to support the leadership development of councillors and officers through the LGA’s Leadership Essentials programme.

Recognising the value of the LGA’s improvement support for councils, Sport England has continued to offer its support during the COVID-19 pandemic. In partnership with Sport England, the LGA has provided ongoing support to alumni of the Leadership Essentials programme, to help their leadership development during a crisis, all whilst developing a refreshed programme for a new established cohort of officers.

LGA/Sport England: Online leadership discussion groups (October – November 2020)

Following up from or alumni Leadership Essentials COVID-19 response programme delivered in April-May 2020, it felt important to re-engage with alumni during November to identify how the key challenges facing leisure facilities had changed. By November, the sector was looking different again, with winter around the corner, less daylight for people to undertake sport and physical activity, and renewed lockdowns. We have also seen some facilities closing down, or being handed back to local authorities, as they are no longer financially viable.  The economic outlook is not benign.  We therefore felt it was the right moment to offer further support.

The aim of the sessions was to provide some dedicated time and space for participants to stand back a bit, connect with others from the programme, and have conversations about what they were seeing in the present, and how they wanted to influence the future.  Delegates came up with a range of positives from their experiences, alongside concerns due to renewed lockdown restrictions, not just around immediate and longer-term viability of services, but also in relation to broader societal issues, particularly health inequalities. Many were clear that they wanted to see radical change, for example in relation to promoting active travel, and placing sport and physical activity as integral to physical and mental health, rather than as adjuncts.

LGA/Sport England: Virtual action learning sets (September – November 2020)

The LGA/Sport England team opened up opportunities for alumni of our flagship Leadership Essentials programme, to engage in online action learning sets. Action learning sets enable a small group of peers to work through leadership issues, share ideas and challenge perceptions in an environment of trust and support through a structured process of reflection, questioning and action planning.  Participants were able to bring a leadership challenge and work collaboratively in an enabling an interactive process to help develop innovative solutions. 

Alumni of the Leadership Essentials programme gained a deeper insight and reflection in an open, probing, environment where they can reflect, listen, question and explore ideas and identify a way forward. The process involves:

  • a real leadership challenge or issue that is important and complex
  • a diverse problem-solving team or "set"
  • a process that promotes curiosity, inquiry, and critical reflection
  • a requirement that talk be converted into action and, ultimately, a way forward
  • a commitment to learning and to confidentiality

By providing this leadership support to our Leadership Essentials alumni, officers were equipped with the knowledge and skills to run their own virtual action learning sets – a key learning tool to enable officers to work as collaborative leaders within the sector.

LGA/Sport England: Online Officer Leadership Essentials programme (November – February 2021)

Over the last six months, the COVID—19 pandemic has led to unprecedented changes to everyone’s lives, including in the sport and physical activity sector. During this period, we have developed and provided a range of online Leadership Essentials sessions to assist those who have been through previous programmes, which have been both welcomed by the participants and from which we have ourselves learnt a great deal.

We will continue to face a period of uncertainty and rapid change, which will require ongoing leadership development for officers working in the sport and physical activity sector. To prepare a Cohort of officer for upcoming changes, we are structuring and piloting a new Leadership Essentials online programme that will help support officers through these challenging times. Some of the material remains the same, and only updated for the current circumstances. Delivering a series of sessions over a four week period, topics include:

  • Developing a shared purpose
  • National and local perspectives
  • Addressing health inequalities
  • Systems thinking, system change and collaborative leadership 
  • Place-based assets and facilities
  • Who are we providing for?
  • Learning to influence

Meeting like-minded colleagues across the country, delegates will also hear from notable speakers within the sector, all whilst being equipped with the knowledge and skills to work through particular leadership challenge they are specifically in their locality.

The programme will support participants to:

  • Engage and influence the changes that will now need to take place in their organisations and the wider sector.
  • Develop and enhance their collaborative leadership skills so they can support and influence the delivery of whole system change.
  • Interact better with other service areas as adult social care, public health, health and wellbeing.
  • Engage with and better influence local political leadership.
  • Better articulate and evidence their value and importance in a new and challenging environment.

Cohort 1: 9 November – 4 December 2020

Cohort 2: January – February 2021 (exact dates TBC).

Applications for the programme have now closed.