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Vacant shopping unit transformed into active space for women and girls

Vacant shopping unit transformed into active space for women and girls

London Sport’s Space for Girls project launches to provide free activity sessions for women and girls

Retail unit in Lewisham Shopping Centre has been renovated to host yoga, dance and boxing sessions

Renovated space to also serve as a “Warm Zone” for families struggling with food and heating bills

LONDON, UK | London Sport has launched the first phase of its Space for Girls project in Lewisham, transforming a vacant retail space in Lewisham Shopping Centre into a health and wellbeing space.

The initiative, delivered in partnership with Enable, Landsec, The Felix Project, and Lewisham Council, aims to give women and girls a safe space to be active, while also providing further services to nearby residents.

The first-of-its-kind activity space, named the ‘CommUNITY Space’, has been turned into a “warm zone” and wellbeing space which provides free activity sessions, warm meals, and support and advice to the local community for the next three months. 

London Sport is working with activity provider Enable and other local community groups to offer a range of sports and other exercise sessions following consultation to understand what activities local women and girls are most likely to engage with. The sessions currently on offer include yoga, strength and balance sessions, dancing, Zumba, boxing and spin classes for all ages and abilities.

The new site in Lewisham will also host The Felix Project, a charity that will be providing hot refreshments and meals to local residents.  

The transformed retail unit is part of London Sport’s larger Space for Girls project which aims to tackle the high levels of inactivity amongst women and girls in London. A recent report from London Sport highlighted that only 41% of girls in London are doing enough physical activity for their mental and physical health, 8% lower than their male counterparts. While these statistics have remained relatively level for the last 5 years, activity levels during the pandemic actually increased for older teenage girls likely due to the flexibility to exercise more easily at home and walk more in local areas.

This uptick in activity over the pandemic may suggest that a core issue of female inactivity is around the provision of suitable spaces for girls. According to charity Make Space for Girls, (separate to London Sport’s Space for Girls project), there are a limited number of spaces and facilities specifically designed for women and girls, particularly teenage girls. Provision of public areas for activities is mostly made up of spaces like skate parks, BMX tracks, football pitches and multi-use games areas, which are used almost entirely by boys.

Safety is also a key issue for many girls in London and a barrier to being active. Research from Girl Guide’s found that 80% of girls aged between 11-21 feel unsafe when outside. The Space for Girls project looks to build positive active experiences for young women and ensure that they can take part in engaging sessions in a safe environment.

The CommUNITY Space will also receive additional funding from Sport England’s Together Fund, of which over £500k is being distributed by London Sport to grassroots clubs, sporting organisations, local authorities, and charities in London to help address deep-rooted health inequalities worsened by the pandemic and the cost of living crisis. The additional funding will enable more free sessions to be hosted in Lewisham Shopping Centre.

Chris Donkin, Strategic Lead for Active Environments at London Sport, said: “By finding innovative solutions to turn non-traditional spaces into active and safe environments, we can help more girls build an active habit for life.

More than just improving physical health, this project will also help local residents socialise, relax, and find the support they need during this cost-of-living crisis. There are a high number of empty units around the capital like the one in Lewisham, we just need to think creatively about how they can best serve the community around them”. 

A report from Green MP Sian Berry found that there are 442 council-owned sites are currently out of their normal use. These ‘dead spaces’ include industrial units, retail units and offices. London Sport is working to encourage local councils and other owners of dead spaces to utilise these spaces to help more people take part in sport and physical activity.

Free activities and services on offer include:

· Yoga, strength and balance, dance, Zumba, boxing and spin classes for all ages and abilities

· A warm, welcoming space with hot refreshments and meals provided by Felix project for people to take away

· Targeted physical activity sessions for young women; building confidence, safety and connection, and for people with long-term health conditions

· Ping pong tables and indoor archery

· Winter Walks through the shopping centre

· A ‘MammaKind’ baby bank supporting children up to 5 years with essential provisions

· Pop-ups and guest speakers on topics like cost-of-living and nutrition

For more information about the Space for Girls project, or to find out how to better utilise ‘dead spaces’ or non-traditional spaces for physical activity, please get in touch through [email protected].


About London Sport

London Sport is a charity that exists to help all Londoners live longer, healthier and happier lives through being active.

Our focus is on children and adults in the most deprived communities who face the greatest challenges of inequality. With physical inactivity responsible for 1 in 6 premature deaths, we want to help every Londoner find their way to move more.

We are supported by Sport England and the Mayor of London, and collaborate with London’s local authorities and other organisations to provide better access to sport and physical activity across the capital.

For more information on London Sport, visit www.londonsport.org.

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