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Single Homeless Project: Insight into the Sport & Health Project with Sam Sainsbury

London Housing Foundation is very proud to be able to support Single Homeless Projects Sports and health Project. We asked Sam Sainsbury, Sports Lead for the project, to tell us more about the scheme and his role.

Single Homeless Project (SHP) launched the Sport and Health Project in 2017 through a grant from the National Lottery funded Sport England Active Aging Initiative focusing on inactivity among the over 55 homeless cohort. The idea was to initiate a programme whereby the clients of SHP were provided with opportunities to engage in sport and exercise, as well as focus on any unaddressed health issues.

To begin with, the project focused on four Boroughs of Camden, Islington, Westminster and Redbridge being solely run by Sport and Health Manager at the time, Eloise Moller. Due to the expansion of the team in the second year of funding, with the introduction of two Sports Coordinators (including myself), the programme was able to expand to nine further boroughs providing approximately 30 weekly sessions including boxing, football, chair aerobics, yoga, bike mechanics, cycling and fishing amongst others. The Project also included the provision of trips and events such as our annual Sports Day. My role as a Sports Coordinator was a combination of running sessions and organising the expansion of new sessions through helping manage a growing group of volunteers and freelancers.

During the third year of funding, the project looked considerably different due to the unfortunate arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic. This caused a temporary halt to all of our group sessions. Amongst a number of roles taken on during this time including covering hostel shifts, the Sport & Health Team were mainly deployed at one of the emergency hotels that were opened in an attempt to house all rough sleepers during the pandemic. Eloise became the Health Navigator for this Service, orchestrating the provision of multiple health services for the clients. Billy Dickenson (Sports Coordinator) and I were part of the team supporting this Service and being on hand to take clients to important appointments.

Outdoor sports

As the restrictions began to ease, we were able to re-introduce exercise opportunities for our clients in the form of outdoor 1-to-1 sessions. We introduced general exercise, fitness classes and bike mechanics sessions before gradually introducing additional activities. For many of our clients, these 1-to-1 sessions gave them something to look forward to in a time where opportunities were sparse.

We also adapted our annual Sports Day, in response to only being permitted outdoor groups of 6. We developed a ‘Sports Day On Tour’ in which we travelled around to 17 SHP Hostels over a two week period, with a wide range of equipment and events planned. This adaptation proved to be successful, because not only was it fully within all governmental restrictions, it received high engagement levels and most services had greater client representation than the previous Sports Day in 2019.

Maintaining client engagement was vital throughout the pandemic for a number of reasons. Firstly it provided clients/residents with the opportunity to alleviate boredom and to rebuild a routine into their daily lives. This subsequently encouraged them to remain enthusiastic about maintaining the progress they made prior to the pandemic with their physical and mental health and engage in other services such as healthcare services.

To date, the outcomes of the Sport & Health Project have been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve had a large number of clients reconnect with sports they’ve previously enjoyed and others engage in sports in which they have wanted to for a long time, but haven’t had the opportunity to do so. Clients have built their own bike from scratch providing them greater freedom to travel around, others learn a new skill like fishing and a number of clients have engaged in training opportunities for qualifications and have become session leaders. In addition to client positive feedback, our evaluation revealed the positive impact the programme has had on their social, physical and mental wellbeing, with improved stress, anxiety and depression levels by 76% and overall quality of life by 62%. Many clients have said they’ve had dramatic changes in their confidence, self esteem and physical fitness.

In 2020 the programme was awarded two grants; an extension to the Sport England funding and a new grant from the KKR Grants Initiative which will see the expansion of our Health Programme.

This year we’re celebrating an additional grant from the London Housing Foundation (LHF) that will support our goals of expanding our reach and maximising our engagement.

Sam Sainsbury

The next two years will have a strong focus on the areas of; delivery, information sharing through evaluation, networking & partnerships and advocacy. We’ll expand the delivery of our programme across all adult SHP Services. We also recognise that the success of our project could be useful in facilitating the development of similar projects in the same sector, and therefore we’ll deliver a number of toolkits, sharing events and sport bags to encourage engagement. Additionally, we aim to foster sector change by creating round table events with key partners within the homeless sector, and develop partnerships with local physical activity providers in key boroughs.

My new role as Sports Lead will have me manage the distribution and delivery of the Sport and Physical activity sessions, by guiding the team of Sports Coordinators, Freelancers and Volunteers.

For me, the excitement comes from a desire to see the project grow. I’ve witnessed first hand how the Project has positively impacted client’s lives. Now with additional support and funding we have the capacity to offer these opportunities to more clients and have a larger impact on the health and wellbeing of vulnerable, socially excluded people and people experiencing homelessness. The learning in the last three years has allowed us to plan a project that we feel is impactful and more importantly sustainable.

For more information about Single Homeless Project’s Sport and Health project go to

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