The role of university students in supporting community sport has been highlighted ©BUCS

Dame Katherine Grainger has backed a project highlighting the influence universities play in improving lives through sport and physical activity.

The MadeAtUni: Energising Places project has been launched by Universities UK (UUK) and British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS).

The organisations said the initiative in is response to concerns over the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the nation’s activity levels.

UUK and BUCS said grassroots sports clubs were reliant on university sports facilities prior to the pandemic.

This reliance is expected to grow further, with universities filling gaps left by the closure of traditional facilities.

Dame Katherine, an Olympic rowing gold medallist and chair of UK Sport, said universities are set to become more vital to the country’s recovery from the pandemic.

"Many people know that universities develop some of our greatest Olympians and Paralympians, but there is an untold story about their work in local communities that improves peoples’ lives through sport and physical activity," Dame Katherine said.

"The pandemic has disrupted all areas of life, and our physical and mental wellbeing has suffered a great deal.

"The role universities play in bringing communities together to get fitter, healthier and happier will be more important than ever in the months and years ahead as we emerge and recover from COVID-19."

UUK and BUCS claim their campaign showcases innovations, including work by Oxford Brookes University to increase activity levels of children with neurological conditions.

A mobile app called ‘Snacktivity’, developed by Loughborough University, aims to tackle obesity and calls for changes to food labelling to highlight the link between physical activity and calories.

The campaign also features partnerships between universities and professional football clubs in their communities, including Edge Hill University in Liverpool and Everton in the Community, and the University of Aberdeen and Aberdeen FC Community Trust.

"For years universities have been improving the nation’s health and wellbeing through their science, research and community-led projects, including public use of sports facilities," said UUK President Professor Julia Buckingham.

"Prior to the pandemic over 80 per cent of university sports facilities were being used by local grassroots clubs, and we want to make it clear to government that universities can help resolve the pandemic’s impact on physical activity levels by filling gaps left by the closure of traditional leisure facilities."

Universities invested £350 million ($483 million/€410 million) in sporting facilities from 2016 to 2018, according to UUK and BUCS.

The organisations said the investment, as well as campuses and university staff, makes universities well placed to support government efforts to get the nation active again.

Dame Katherine Grainger, left, is chair of UK Sport ©Getty Images
Dame Katherine Grainger, left, is chair of UK Sport ©Getty Images

The role of students in supporting communities has also been outlined, with over 725,000 claimed to volunteer every year.

The campaign runs to 16 July and includes the Club Charity Initiative Award at the annual BUCS Awards.

The award aims to celebrate the positive effect of student sport and students who participate in the wider sporting sector in the UK.

"While in the last year we may have lost sports competition, we have gained compassion and kindness – all of which are exemplified through students’ significant efforts to support local charities and organisations," said BUCS chief executive Vince Mayne.

"They have played a huge part in helping communities across the country recover from the pandemic, and this really highlights how sport is a fantastic tool to bring students together to engage with local communities, volunteering thousands of hours of their time every year.

"Universities too are at the heart of their local community, providing access to great facilities for grassroots to high performance clubs, student coaches for teams, as well as players and athletes competing for their local communities outside of university competition.

"This facility and workforce element will be absolutely vital as we emerge from the restrictions and people want to return to playing sport.

"We know there is a huge challenge for community clubs and many will not survive; universities can play a lead role in helping support their communities through this challenge."