Sport has been such a force for good in my life. At secondary school, I discovered hockey and tennis and never looked back. I loved the fun, comradeship and competition it brought to my life. It was such an incredible buzz and motivated me to approach other parts of my life with the same energy and determination I found on the sports field.
Here in the UK, we are so fortunate to have some brilliant and inspirational role models, such as Jessica Ennis, Beth Tweddle and Ellie Simmonds (to name a few). These women have been such an inspiration for girls across the country and have played an important part in encouraging more women to take part.
But unfortunately there are still 1.8 million more men playing sport regularly than women. It’s a staggering figure and one I am absolutely determined to reduce. I firmly believe to do this we need to better understand and break down the barriers women face when it comes to getting involved in sport.
Breaking down barriers
A new initiative in East Bury is doing just this and I was lucky enough to go and see it for myself last week with Olympic gold medallist, Rebecca Adlington. Part of the great and important ‘I will If You Will’ campaign, we unveiled a very special and unique swimming pool at Broad Oak High School.
The pool is re-locatable and has been designed to give young women from different backgrounds and religions, the confidence, comfort and privacy they need to take part in swimming. It’s an inspired idea and I met a very excited group of girls who were already making fantastic use of the new pool and loving every minute of it. I can see it’s a great new addition to Bury’s very multi-ethnic community and I will be watching closely to follow its success.
Bury itself is the focus of a £2.3 million pilot that is looking specifically at breaking down barriers. The pilot is listening to local women and girls, working hard to understand their fears and needs, and coming up with innovative ways to find resolutions. I absolutely love the approach and I’m thrilled that best practice from this pilot could be rolled out nationwide.
Golden days for women’s cricket
But it’s not just Bury where things are changing for the better. This week we celebrated a fantastic milestone in the participation of women’s cricket. 1 million girls are now playing cricket thanks to the school’s cricket campaign ‘Chance to Shine’ – it’s an astounding achievement.
Just a decade ago, cricket wasn’t even an option in school for many girls. But yet, there I was on Monday, in the hall of Brunswick Primary School in Kent, watching a group of girls taking part in a time-honoured and traditional British sport and having a fantastic time. They were good too – I had a go at batting and the bowling was spot-on!
With this and the winning performance by the female England cricket team in the recent Ashes tournament, the horizon is so rosy for women’s cricket.
I was particularly pleased to see that the England women’s team will receive a major pay rise and a bonus following their Ashes success. It shows a very commendable and significant commitment from the English Cricket Board (ECB) for the women’s game. The women’s team have been producing excellent results for some years now and have become outstanding role models. It’s so important we recognise and reward the achievements of our sporting stars in equal measure, male or female.
The ECB also announced new investment in developing facilities in our inner cities. This will be such an important boost for take-up at the grassroots level of cricket. All children should have the chance to play cricket and investments like this from the ECB are absolutely vital.
Girl power Jenny Jones
I can’t finish without sending my warmest congratulations to Jenny Jones for winning the bronze medal for slope style snowboarding at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. It really is a fantastic achievement and I know how hard she has worked. I think we’ve all noticed a surge of excitement and interest in the Winter Olympics since her win and again, she is such a strong role model for our young women. I’m off to Sochi at the end of next week and I’m looking forward to congratulating Jenny in person.
So, a really positive week for women’s sport. Looking back on the last few days, I’m feeling very hopeful and excited. It genuinely feels as if change is afoot. Sport was my passion and my motivation growing up and I want to do everything I can to make it easier for women from any community in the UK to enjoy the same opportunities.