A group of girls sitting together in a leisure centre, smiling

Big Sister project inspires 3000 teenage girls to get active  


More than 3,000 teenage girls have taken up activities at their local leisure centre by a programme designed to support teenage girls to enjoy sport, exercise and physical activity during puberty. Over the course of 10 months this resulted in 55,000 individual leisure centre visits. Of the girls surveyed 6 in 10 say they are now more motivated to take part in sport and exercise.

They also reported feeling…

  • Happier (59%)
  • More confident (62%)
  • More resilient (63%)
  • Now enjoy sport and exercise more (64%)

The project, designed to combat a sharp drop-off in sport during teenage years, was created and shaped for girls, by girls, putting their needs and voices front and centre. Big Sister was created out of a shared vision to break down the barriers and address the stigma and gender stereotyping which can prevent girls from leading happy, healthy and active lives, and at a time in adolescence when they could benefit most. Exercise can help to prevent issues like anxiety self-harm during the teenage years and lower the risk of osteoporosis that can plague women in later life.  

Last year a ground-breaking report by the charity Women in Sport found 1.3 million teenage girls (43%), who once considered themselves ‘sporty’ are disengaging from sport following primary school*. A fear of being judged by others, a lack of confidence in their ability, body image and puberty were found to be significant barriers to participation. 

3,000 girls supported to get active

Determined to create change, Women in Sport and a consortium of partners; Places for People, its leisure provider Places Leisure and Hey Girls, a social enterprise dedicated to tackling period poverty, led the creation and implementation of Big Sister to enable girls to find out about the physical and emotional changes that happen during puberty whilst offering practical ways to get and stay active in supportive environments. 

Big Sister, which launched in May 2022, offered free 3-month gym memberships to girls aged between 9-15 at Places Leisure centres in South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Norfolk. This gave girls unlimited use of the gym and swimming pool and access to female-only workout classes and virtual classes through the Places Locker app. Alongside this, a digital hub provided an extensive range of resources, support and practical advice from 20 trained Big Sister peer mentors.  

Girls participating in Big Sister told us:

It helped motivate me to live a healthier lifestyle and allowed me to go to the gym for free without it costing my family

“I got to go swimming loads; my mum has five girls so we can’t afford to go out a lot but with Big Sister we could go all the time. I learned to swim…I wouldn’t have done this so quickly if it weren’t for the free swimming.” Grace, aged 11  

“I like that I have made new friends that I didn’t know before. I’m not worried now to try something new because I know now that if I try it, I might enjoy it.” Aisha, aged 10  

To combat period poverty more than 19,000 girls were supported with free disposable and reusable period products and educational resources from Hey Girls, after Women in Sport research found 7 in 10 girls avoid sport while on their period. * 

Women in Sport CEO, Stephanie Hilborne OBE said: “Big Sister has bust the myth that somehow teenage girls are innately averse to exercise. We have proved that given the right opportunities, teenage girls will use gyms and pools and get involved in sport. But far too often girls don’t get that chance.

“This is important. Teenage girls are in the midst of a mental health epidemic with anxiety running rife and we know that exercise can be an antidote. The girls who took up the offer of free access to leisure facilities, free period products and advice from inspiring mentors said they were not only more active but were happier and felt more resilient. 6 in 10 girls told us they now enjoyed sport and exercise and were more confident to try other new things in their lives. 

“Now we have demonstrated what’s possible we are calling on local authorities and leisure providers to recognise the difference they can make if they go out into communities and engage with teenage girls in the right way. We cannot sit back and watch another generation of girls denied the joy and freedom of sport. It’s time we recognised sport’s true value to girls.  

“Big Sister is a team effort, and we are delighted, and proud, to have worked with such committed partners – Places Foundation and Places for People, Places Leisure and Hey Girls. Their dedication, alongside that of our remarkable Big Sister ambassadors, has contributed to the success of this project.” 

6 in 10 girls now say they enjoy exercise more

Marcus Hulme, Director of Places Impact at Places for People said: “We are delighted to have been able to help over 3,000 teenage girls through the Big Sister Project to break down the deep-seated barriers that they face in leading healthy, happy and active lives. We are extremely proud of the success of this project and know that it has only been possible through the collaboration between likeminded and determined partners.” 

Read the full Big Sister impact report here