Lancaster launches ‘Just Play’

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Photo: Mazran Esro

In Week 1 Lancaster University and LUSU launched the ‘Just Play’ project after securing a grant of £240,000 from Sport England’s University Sport Activation Fund.  The new recreational project aims to get students more involved in physical activity at university by offering a range of sporting and physical activities on a weekly basis throughout the year. Students can take part in things such as wheelchair basketball, archery, fencing, swimming, netball and indoor climbing for a fee of £1 per session.

Speaking to SCAN about the scheme, Kim Montgomery, Head of Sport at Lancaster said “What we’ve always been aware of is you come to university and you want to get involved with the university teams and suddenly you find out there’s not a slot for me, I’m not quite good enough or I don’t want to commit to the training, so unless it’s football or netball that you can play in your college then you’ve got nowhere to go. So what we’ve identified is this is recreation, if people just want to have fun with a sport we need to get them involved with it on that level. Who knows, there’s still a pathway if they do perform there and get better and better, then they can still go towards the elite side. But our feeling was it was elite, college sport or nothing and it’s filling that gap at the bottom.”

Similarly Claire Place, Sport England Coordinator also said the project aimed to “reach out to those people who aren’t currently involved in sport, or they want to play it but they don’t want to do it competitively, or they want to be active but also they might not have access to funding for the sports centre or for joining a society.” She highlighted that the groups that the project wanted to target were particularly international students, women, mature students, students with disabilities and carers. VP (Activities) Salman Rukhsar told SCAN: “I think it’s fantastic that we’re finally starting to consider everyone rather than just people who really like to compete. We do have the elite things like Roses and BUCS, but a lot of students think sport is not for them because it’s just about competing.” He went on to say “ideally we’d like to have an active campus where everyone feels comfortable to get involved in sport or activity at any level. You don’t have to be elite, you can just give it a go. Everyone can benefit from it, they get to make new friends, meet new people and obviously it impacts on your wellbeing. It’s fantastic to get more active and hopefully people will feel better after a session.”

The Just Play program is run by the full time Sports Participation Coordinators Claire Place and Rick Barnes, who was the lead member of staff involved in a similar project at the University of Central Lancashire. However, the activities are primarily run by Sports Activators who are made up of students from university and college teams as well as people who may not necessarily be elite, but have a strong interest in a particular sport or interested in helping with the scheme. Montgomery said “I think that what is great about the scheme is that it’s for the students, delivered by the students.”

One of the features highlighted by many of the team involved in Just Play was the scheme’s flexibility. Currently there is a set programme of 18 sports but Montgomery assured SCAN that this isn’t set in stone. She said “we’ve set a program but if certain sessions don’t fill up or there isn’t a certain sport there, we can adapt it… We will try and find a pathway to get people involved in sport somewhere.”

In terms of promoting the project, Rukhsar told SCAN that LUSU will be working closely with the college sports representatives on campus to encourage students to get involved. Through these figures LUSU hope to gain feedback on what students want from the programme.

Place told SCAN that the biggest challenge of promoting the project will be reaching out to the groups of students who aren’t actively looking to play sport, therefore she said: “It’s about making sure that we don’t expect people to come to LUSU, we’re going to try and get out to them. So we’re going to be taking things to different colleges and working with colleges to make sure we meet people and work with those college reps as well.”

As for the long term plans for Just Play, the funding will last for the next three years, however Montgomery assures SCAN that the university will be applying again and continuing to develop scheme. Speaking to James Marenghi, the Sports Development Manager, he explained the long term aims of the project. He said: “We’re trying to run all these projects through the sports clubs because long term, our sustainable model is that every sports club has an elite, development and recreational side.”