Making sport, physical activity and movement a normal part of life for everyone

Sport England

With Sport England, nationwide

Innovation Unit is Sport England’s learning partner to help the organisation over the next two years understand how to meet its aims through developing a culture of innovation and identifying and embedding different ways of working to help get people moving and tackle inequalities.

Sport England’s 10-year strategy Uniting the Movement aims to open up the benefits of a healthy life to everybody and every community – regardless of people’s backgrounds, gender, bank balance and postcode.

The need

Sport England provides £250 million of National Lottery and government funding to support sport and physical activity in England as well as offering free advice and guidance on running a sports club, managing facilities and volunteers, safeguarding, marketing and teacher training.

The organisation also advocates for sport and physical activity as a means of improving people’s mental wellbeing and medical conditions and bringing together diverse communities. Research in social and economic value from sport and physical activity reveals:

  • improved life satisfaction for 24 million participants and 3.9 million volunteers
  • prevention of serious physical and mental health conditions valued at £9.5 billion
  • creating stronger, safer communities valued at £20 billion – including 10,000 fewer crimes.

When the pandemic hit, Sport England had to change focus – encouraging individuals to keep moving despite being locked down at home with sports facilities temporarily closed. This required Sport England to work differently – and to fund different kinds of activity in communities. They had to innovate.

Now Sport England wants to capitalise on this learning – particularly around its own approach to innovation and inspiring the sector to think differently about how to tackle inequalities.


Sport England has five aims which chime with IU’s mission to deliver long-term impact for people and address persistent inequalities:

  • recover and reinvent a vibrant, relevant and sustainable network to meet the needs of different people
  • connect communities to make better places to live and bring people together
  • provide positive experiences for children and young people and lay foundations for a long and healthy life
  • strengthen connections between sport, physical activity, health and wellbeing
  • create and protect the place and spaces that make it easier for people to be active.

The organisation has recognised its own areas for improvement in delivering these aims, identifying five ‘catalysts for change’ across people, organisations and partnerships. ‘Applying innovation and digital’ is one of these catalysts, and is Sport England’s core area of work with Innovation Unit.


With our support, Sport England started its learning journey with its innovation team – reflecting on what they have already learnt through COVID about how to innovate (and how not to!). During our monthly learning sessions, or sprints, we’re working with them to build their confidence, competence and capability to innovate through:

  • clarifying their aims and purpose
  • capturing what they’ve achieved already that’s new or improved
  • helping them think about new ways of designing and developing solutions
  • creating differing ways to think and work as a team.

Next we engaged the wider organisation, helping the innovation team to share their learning and improve ways of working across teams.


Since we started working with Sport England in summer 2021, we’ve identified three areas of impact:

  1. Defining innovation: we helped the team explore the idea that innovation doesn’t have to be a new product or service, it can be an improved process or outcome. Innovation is not always about new, it is about better, at scale. Having a shared, accessible definition is empowering more people to be part of the work.
  2. Embedding existing approaches: we supported the team to recognise the great innovation that already exists within Sport England and the opportunities to scale and embed this into the organisation, to help everyone benefit from new ways of working.
  3. Seeding culture change: we helped the team to move from participants in the learning work to designing and delivering innovation sessions to share the approach more widely across the organisation.