Coca-Cola has joined forces with the Youth Sport Trust and the British Olympic Foundation to transform 10 secondary school playgrounds into places pupils are keen to use during PE lessons and break times.
The programme, Personal Best Challenge Park, aims to help schools meet government targets to increase the percentage of five to 16-year-olds who spend at least two hours a week involved in high quality sport from 62 per cent to 85 per cent by 2008.
The partnership has already resulted in the remodelling of five school grounds, including Brins-worth Comprehensive School in Rotherham, with a sixth to be officially unveiled at Dene Community School of Technology in County Durham tomorrow. The playgrounds are being redesigned in close consultation with pupils at each school - new features so far include a giant Connect 4 and skateboarding areas.
The Youth Sport Trust first proposed the idea to Coca-Cola two years ago, when the company was looking for a community-based initiative to link to its sponsorship of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. The Challenge Parks were intended to embody the Olympian ideals of fair play and trying your best.
The effectiveness of the parks is being independently monitored by the Institute for Youth Sport at Loughborough University. Some pupils are having their fitness levels observed, and students' behaviour is being tracked through pupil and teacher interviews.
Evaluation of the first two parks produced very positive results, according to Nicola Carroll, citizenship manager at Coca-Cola GB. The results demonstrated not only that the students were getting more exercise, but also that they had developed new skills and had improved their behaviour.
Carroll denied there was any conflict with the fact that Coca-Cola makes sugary drinks. "This initiative is not linked to consumption - there is no Coca-Cola branding," she said. "We can play a role in helping to promote active lifestyles, which fits with our heritage of promoting sport. It's important to have an impact in the communities in which we operate."
Coca-Cola is investing £775,000 in the 10-school pilot over three years. If the first 10 prove successful, the partners hope to expand the programme to more schools.