Big Sister Project

Helping girls get active

We teamed up with Women in Sport, and social enterprise Hey Girls to launch the Big Sister project in May 2022, establishing a network of Big Sisters who empower and enable teenage girls to enjoy sport during puberty.

The Big Sisters have since been recruited from sport, school, and community organisations across the city to put an end to out-dated advice and help keep young girls healthy and active during their school years. In just twelve months, the initiative has reached a major milestone, engaging 3,250 young people across the nation.

Girls who have now signed up for the initiative benefit from three months free membership at our Wisewood Sports Centre, Thorncliffe Health and Sports Centre and Graves Health and Sports Centre. There, they are offered unlimited gym and swim sessions, free workout classes and free, reusable period products.

All participants have also been given free access to the Places Leisure Locker App which includes a dedicated Big Sister channel, meaning the young girls have advice to hand 24/7.

Breaking down barriers

Sarah Roberts, Head of Fitness and Healthy Communities at Places Leisure said: “We are delighted to have helped more than 3,250 young girls across England. Working together with our partners at Women in Sport and Hey Girls, we have made it our mission to reach out to this hard-to-reach age group, breaking down the deep-seated barriers that teenage girls face in leading healthy, happy and active lives – be that affordability, body confidence, managing periods or worrying about safety or harassment."

“Our project offering has been shaped by our young participants and we have engaged with thousands of girls across the region to ensure we can combat their fears and right out-dated myths regarding puberty; direct feedback from young girls range from worries about the pain of periods, their ability to exercise while on their period, their knowledge of sports bras – even their fears of being ridiculed for playing sport."

“Places Leisure and our partners have countered this with a brilliant and supportive network of Big Sisters – these are approachable mentors on whom local girls in Sheffield can now depend. We have fostered connections between them, as well as making exercise affordable by giving young girls free access to our facilities and of course the period products they need.”

Options for everybody

19-year-old Big Sister Peer Mentor, Ellen, added: “Puberty is tough for everyone, even girls who you presume ‘have got off lightly’ are going through their own difficulties. I wish I had the confidence to start exercising at a younger age. I only recently found the type of exercise for me, the one I enjoyed, where I got most sweaty and when I would finish my session on such a high and with a feeling of invincibility."

“I became confident in my ability about what I can do and stopped comparing myself to others. I also feel better in myself, I have way more energy and feel so much more comfortable in my own skin. We are so lucky to now live in a world where there are so many options for everybody so no matter what your ability is, there will be something out there for you and Big Sister can help you discover your journey.”

Since its launch, Big Sister has engaged and spoken with over 14,000 girls nationwide to further shape its services. The new milestone shows that 3,250 of them have formally moved forward with the initiative, joining their local Places Leisure centre, and undertaking fitness classes that are giving them a renewed confidence to take part in sport.

A further 1,689 of them have engaged with the exercise videos on the dedicated Big Sister channel through the Places Leisure Locker App.

Future plans

Jamie Dickinson, Group Head of Social Value at Places Foundation, commented: “We’re extremely proud of the success of this project and our partnership with all the organisations that have made this happen. Our Places Foundation team has taken the message of the project to the heart of our communities, and we’re looking forward to building on the success of our community engagement model with schools and community partners as we move forward.”

Added Wendy Hawk, Head of Engagement and Communications at Women in Sport: “Women in Sport is delighted to have brought together an incredible consortium of partners to help ensure that girls and young women are no longer excluded from physical activity and sport. Born out of four years of deep understanding of the barriers that teenage girls face to being active, from puberty, periods, self esteem and affordability, the Big Sister programme has revolutionised the way girls can access physical activity in the heart of their community. We want to do more, and we must support other communities to do this, building an even bigger movement of big sisters across the country."

Kate Smith, Co-Founder and Director at Hey Girls concluded: "All of us at Hey Girls are so proud to take part in the Big Sister Project and ensure periods don't stop young people living a happy and active lifestyle."

"To have now helped more than 3,250 people through the project is a great feeling – and we look forward to continuing our work with our partners Women in Sport and Places Leisure to provide the much-needed support that young people need to live a healthy life.”