Blog entry by Olivia Warwick
Rosie Benson, Head of Clubs at Sport England discusses the recent Club Matters stakeholder event on the increased cost of living, focusing on the challenges clubs and groups are facing, how they are currently coping, and how further support might be shaped. The blog includes useful links to cost-saving guidance, and the opportunity to share both best practice and arising challenges that can inform upcoming Club Matters content and sector wide support.
For most of this year we’ve been hearing about increasing costs. Food, petrol, household energy, just about everything. We know this is impacting on people’s ability to get active, and difficult choices are having to be made by individuals and families.
So, we know demand is potentially being affected, but what about the ‘supply’ of opportunities to be active? What’s happening for volunteers who run and look after community clubs and groups, some of which manage places such as club houses or community centres?
In mid-October 2022, Sport England’s Club Matters team ran an online stakeholder event which focussed on the impact of the increased running costs for clubs and community groups. The event was attended by around 80 colleagues from NGBs, Active Partnerships, local authorities, sports for development organisations and other national bodies who provide ‘hands-on’ support to grassroots sports and physical activity organisations.
As well as the obvious dilemma for clubs and group of not wanting to pass on increases in running costs to their participants, the event discussion groups highlighted the following challenges;
- Practical considerations - some families are experiencing food and fuel poverty. Participating in sport and physical activity is likely to burn extra calories and make people hungrier. Participating in sport could also require people to shower and wash their clothes more, which may act as a barrier for some.
- Volunteers - many are finding it difficult to commit the same amount of time to their roles, as they now have further competing priorities such as additional work hours or childcare. This is likely to place additional responsibility on those volunteers who are able and willing to continue. Travel costs may present a barrier to some volunteers.
- Competition structures and talent pathways - participants, volunteers and families may not be able/willing to absorb the costs of having to travel long distances to compete or train. Consideration needs to be given to understanding how this can impact some groups more than others, for example, female teams may have to travel further than male teams, public transport may not be an option for some people, and others may need to stay in hotels overnight.
- Training and development - there’s been a reduction in staff and/or volunteers booking onto training courses due to the associated cost, travel requirements, time, and the need to juggle work, family and volunteer roles. This runs the risk of staff and/or volunteers having out of date qualifications.
What are clubs and groups doing to cope?
Just like during the worst of the Covid pandemic, groups of volunteers are being innovative, creative, caring and doing their best to look after their participants and community.
- Organisations are looking at what they can do to improve their energy efficiency and reduce their expenditure. Sport England and the RFU have some great guidance on this. Sport England energy guidance. RFU ‘essential no cost – low cost solutions’.
- Those who can, are creating hardship funds for participants most in need. However, there is often a reluctance from people to ask for support if this is not well advertised. Managing this process can also present an additional burden on the voluntary workforce.
- Some asset owning club/groups have, or are planning to, offer their facilities to their local community as a ‘warm space’ or ‘warm bank’ (public spaces for people who are struggling to heat their homes to keep warm in during the winter). Some organisations are offering kit and equipment swaps, food banks and coat exchanges to further support their participants and people within their local community.
- Organisations are forming regional groups with a view to bulk buying equipment and supplies to help reduce costs.
But it’s still a struggle for many and we don’t know when this period of hardship might ease. What further help can be provided to volunteers and the professional workforce who support them?
- Resources that can help organisations set up a hardship fund (including the process and management of this).
- Resources to help organisations forge connections and links to volunteer centres and other local support networks.
- Support for community organisations with forward planning, rather than being reactive to the impacts of the rising cost of living. Many organisations are still focused on day-to-day operations. It’s acknowledged that this is a difficult cycle to break with time poor volunteers.
- Information to develop understanding and encourage organisations to look for alternative solutions to counterbalance the rising cost of living.
Information and guidance on supporting people’s mental welfare and helping them deal with stress during this time of financial pressure.The event gave us lots of things to think about – some which reinforced what we have already heard and some new perspectives and realities. The Club Matters team is using this to inform communication and content development for the next few months. If you have any examples of clubs or groups who are doing innovative and inspiring things that we can share across our network, please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org