Oliver Pickup hears how The National Lottery has helped This Girl Can get almost three million women and girls in the UK more active already, and what’s next for the inspirational campaign
A faceless lady with a proudly untoned, unfiltered body strides towards a swimming pool. Nearing the water, she confidently twangs her bikini bottoms, springing to life Missy Elliot’s hit Get Ur Freak On. A few seconds later – during a montage depicting happy, sweaty, unknown women and girls boxing, running, playing football, among other sports – an on-screen caption reads: “I jiggle; therefore I am.” And so begins the first, iconic This Girl Can video from 2015, when Sport England’s National Lottery-funded, award-winning campaign designed to encourage more females to exercise was established.
Since launching seven years ago, This Girl Can has persuaded almost three million women and girls in the UK (2.9m at the last count) to get more active, according to campaign lead Kate Dale. None of it would have been possible without the support of The National Lottery.
“I’m hugely proud of what This Girl Can has achieved, in terms of celebrating active women who are doing their thing no matter how they do it, how they look, or how sweaty they get,” she says.
“The original vision for This Girl Can was, having identified the gender gap, to help women get active – and not to use the word ‘sport’ in the title, because it carries negative memories from school days for some people. Maybe the shutters came down in their minds because they felt they weren’t good at sport, and didn’t feel invited to an exclusive club.
“We wanted to build something that women could be part of, and they could define what it meant for them. It’s not caring about how they look, how good they are – or aren’t – or understanding that it’s important to fit activity into their days no matter how many other priorities they have in the day. We found women with young children felt guilty spending time away from their little ones, but a) their lives are just as important as their children’s, and b) this activity helps them to be better parents as it makes them role models and recharges their batteries.”
Praising The National Lottery’s ongoing commitment, Dale continues: “I am often approached by women telling me how seeing that advert changed their lives, and it has encouraged them to go running or set up a football team, and so on. And it is all down to The National Lottery funding – it has been critical, especially for long-term planning and infrastructure investment. It has enabled us to make decisions for the next few years and not around shorter funding cycles.”
Dale joined Sport England in January 2004, the same year the Active Lives surveys began. The latest figures, published in April 2021, indicate that 61.5% of women in the UK did at least 150 minutes of exercise a week in November 2019 compared with 65.3% of men on the eve of the coronavirus crisis.
She says confirmation in 2005 that London would host the Olympic Games in 2012 helped inspire women – and men – to be more active, and The National Lottery-funded campaigns like This Girl Can serve to build on that momentum. Indeed, the increased visibility of female pundits at the recent Euro 2020 serves as an example of how the gender gap has been narrowed in other ways, and it can be traced back to This Girl Can.
“Before the pandemic, the participation numbers for both genders had increased steadily over the last decade and more,” says Dale. “It is so important for people to be active for all sorts of reasons – and you don’t have to be sporty to be active. Team sport isn’t for everyone, and the funding has enabled Sport England to invest right across and understand, support and develop all sorts of physical activities. But our work is far from over.”
Looking at the post-pandemic world, she adds: “As we build back as a society, the role of The National Lottery in helping us recover from the last 18 months is going to be vital. Everyone’s lives have changed, but there is so much to do now to help women and girls get back into physical activity. We have a crucial couple of years coming up, and having The National Lottery’s support and investment is just what we need.”