Skip to content

Designing for Health and Happiness


Project News


Minute Read

The Sports And Play Construction Association (SAPCA) hosted a conference earlier this week that brought together key speakers to highlight the importance of inclusivity and environmental sustainability in sports facility projects.  Andy Mytom, Partner at David Morley Architects (DMA), spoke alongside other advocates for sustainability and inclusion of women in sport. The speakers explored possible ways to design and create inclusive spaces and facilities for people of all abilities and backgrounds to get active through play and sport.

The SAPCA conference opened with a keynote address by Frank Dick OBE, an inspirational speaker, sports and corporate coaching consultant with an impressive career in high performance sport. “To win the game of change, we must be able to anticipate it, create it and be adaptable to it,” Frank says. “But it’s more than the ability to change; it’s the will to change.”

SAPCA is celebrating its 25th anniversary and is ‘turning up the dial’ on its activities. The new CEO of SAPCA, Richard Shaw, believes the outcomes associated with play and sport are massively undervalued, but are integral to improving the nation’s health. He explains to ‘Sports Nation’. “I know that good quality sports provision truly matters in society. We need high-quality facilities in order to achieve the outcomes that we all want – a healthier, happier, resilient and more inclusive population.”

“The difference that good quality sports provision can make… is the difference between people enjoying sport and not playing at all.”

So how can we be designing active environments that inspire more people to use them and at the same time have sustainability at its core? Andy invited the audience at the SAPCA conference to look beyond the standard designated sports spaces (leisure buildings and pitches) and to consider the spaces in between. The necessary infrastructure – all the spaces in between buildings – can be designed in a way to contribute to active, healthy lives in harmony with the environment and nature.

Andy believes, “for those designing play and activity the big learning is this: if we shift our attitudes and look at the outdoor environment first, we will be able to reshape the places we live in. By including play as part of our natural environment, we can minimise our impact on the planet, while maximising the benefits we can get from nature.”

During the pandemic we were denied access to many purpose-built facilities which led to finding alternative ways to play and exercise in our existing environments. If these spaces are designed with play and activity in mind from the outset, we can reduce the number of buildings needed and create more with less. “This will also lead to the environments we live in becoming attractive and socially connected.”

DMA has put this theory into practice for many of its projects including Loughborough University’s Active Campus, Warwick University’s Sports and Wellness Hub, and Matlock Spa, an ongoing residential development which builds on the spa town tradition with health and well-being as the focus of the plan.

At Loughborough University, a cohesive and diverse active environment was developed to deliver opportunities for a range of students with different sporting abilities to engage with infrastructure to support happy healthy lifestyles. Feedback from students highlighted their need for areas to have fun; places to invent their own games; ways to be visually stimulated; as well as green spaces to sit and observe in. The design of the active campus adopted a ‘see it, do it’ approach and included twenty-six types of stimulating infrastructure. Steps were built on to a slope to provide a surface for training as well as a space to sit; pedals were installed in front of benches to encourage students to have a cycle while they sit and use their own energy to charge their phones; lines were painted on to the roads to encourage people to run from A to B. “Those that have seen the area have said how engaging it is to inspire them to run or get active” reports Mark Davies, Sports Capital Strategy and Maintenance Manager.

Design has an important role in enhancing lives, and the spaces between our buildings can do more than they currently are for the physical and mental wellbeing of our communities. Andy will be speaking further on this subject at the Why Sports ‘Improving Health and Increasing Activity’ Conference in June, alongside Ben Phillips, Development Director at Lands Improvement Holdings Ltd, and Trevor Smith, Managing Director at Sportsmith Ltd. Andy, Ben and Trevor are collaboratively working with local authorities to reimagine how we can invest in physical environments that naturally support healthier ways of living through active designs.

Andy believes, “there is the opportunity to convert ‘must-spend’ costs of infrastructure and use our insight and influence to create active environments that suit the needs of different people at different times of their day, week and lives for little, or no, additional cost.”

Further Information