An action research project in Huddersfield aimed at encouraging people in the South Asian community living with long-term health conditions to become more active has earned national acclaim.

The project – called ‘We Are Undefeatable’ – was centred on Birkby and involved researchers at the University of Huddersfield.

The project, showcased at a national Sport England conference, saw Huddersfield Business School and the School of Human and Health Sciences collaborate with Kirklees Council, Yorkshire Sport Foundation and Sport England.

Led by the University of Huddersfield’s Dr Nicola Stenberg and Prof Barry Percy-Smith, and funded by a national campaign launched by Sports England in 2019, the project identified opportunities to increase activity among people living with long-term health conditions.  

Hira Younas, a PhD student at Huddersfield Business School, was the research assistant on the project.

Following a literature review and multiple conversations with South Asian residents of Birkby, and other local stakeholders, the research highlighted the limitations of mainstream approaches to physical activity promotion and emphasised the need for culturally sensitive and locally based initiatives.

Dr Stenberg said the team was extremely proud of what they have achieved on this project and applauded PhD researcher Hira for her passion and determination to make progress, despite all the challenges of Covid.

“She built the relationships with local people that underpinned everything that we did,” said Dr Stenberg.

The project has enabled two new physical activity groups to be established within the local community, one in the mosque and the other in the library.

‘Birkby Health & Wellbeing Playbook’ was also co-produced with residents of Birkby, which shares stories, tips and advice about physical and mental wellbeing.

The project partners are now working with Radio Sangam and there are plans to broadcast short pieces to promote physical activity.

“We have shown that deep-rooted health inequalities require innovative solutions and a genuine commitment to understanding the experiences and perspectives of the people that live in our communities,” said Dr Stenberg.

“Our ‘action inquiry’ approach in Birkby was an experiment. We didn’t know what would happen and we certainly experienced challenges.

“But with a very strong partnership, a highly skilled researcher and a flexible funder we were able to navigate our way through the project and demonstrate that research, that is genuinely embedded in the community, can add real value to place-based action and change.”

Learnings from this project are now being shared with public and third sector decision makers within Kirklees. The project partners are confident that there is sufficient interest to build on this work in other parts of the district.