Blog entry by Niall Judge

Niall Judge
by Niall Judge - Thursday, 13 August 2020, 3:06 PM
Anyone in the world

At the beginning of July, Club Matters hosted a panel discussion between representatives from Active Essex, British Canoeing, the Bowls Development Alliance, England Boxing, the Lawn Tennis Association and North Yorkshire Sport. Our panellists represented sports at various stages of returning and shared insightful views and observations based on their work with clubs/groups and their experiences as they return to sport and activity. This blog summarises the key issues discussed.

Speed of Return is Unique

It is clear that each sport is going to be experiencing the return to sport and activity differently and at different times, due to their unique combinations of factors. These include the type of equipment used, the levels of physical contact required, the demographic makeup of their membership and access to appropriate venues. In fact, even within sports, it is clear that different clubs and groups are having to adapt in different ways, with some finding it easier to prepare for their return than others.

The Return of Members and Participants

Understandably, some clubs are worried about encouraging some of their members and participants to return. This is being seen across sports, though some are more affected than others; Bowls, for example, has an older core market. This means some members are either less able/willing to return or are concerned about whether going back is the right choice for them. Membership migration is the other side of the coin – Bowls has also seen that, with around half of their outdoor clubs open again at present, some people are leaving clubs that haven’t reopened yet to join one that has. From across our panellists, it was obvious that encouraging people to renew their membership is a key concern for many.

This is not the case for all sports, however! The LTA reported a spike in club membership and an increase in the number of families getting involved with their local club. British Canoeing also reported a rise in membership since the lockdown restrictions began to ease. Based on responses from their paddlers, looking after their mental health is a key motivator for people getting involved in the sport right now. It was agreed that there is a new recognition for the power and importance of sport and physical activity due to the global health pandemic, something that clubs and delivery organisations could look to capitalise on.

The Importance of Regular, Two-Way, Communication

Our panellists recommended that regular two-way communication with members and participants going forward will be key to encouraging people to return to clubs and delivery organisations. They also suggested that this could be used as an opportunity for a club/organisation to look at their offer and consider diversifying and adapting so they can create a ‘new offer for a new normal’. This could help them to encourage members and participants to return and even to attract new people.

The Return of the Club/Group Volunteer Workforce

As with members and participants, there is some concern around encouraging volunteers back into a club or delivery organisation setting. Our panellists identified a number of factors that could have an impact on this, including the extra demand placed on already busy volunteers to adapt sessions, facilities and operations to new requirements.

England Boxing, for example, noted that a lot is required of their coaches and volunteers; people at higher risk or with underlying health issues might be less able to return, but wouldn’t feel comfortable passing on significant responsibilities to others with less experience.

North Yorkshire Sport and Active Humber conducted some local research into volunteers’ returning. They found that health and safety considerations for both volunteers and participants, having less spare time due to focusing on their own businesses etc. and a lack of clarity (at the time) around what they could and couldn’t do were all impacting volunteers’ willingness to return. British Canoeing also noted that some are worried about the prospect of making decisions that can affect their members’ health and safety.

However, our panellists also explained that the clubs and organisations they work with that have reopened are seeing a positive return of their volunteer workforce despite these concerns. To help other clubs/delivery organisations mirror this, they suggested capitalising on the ‘volunteering for social good’ movement seen throughout lockdown, where people have been getting more involved in their community, to recruit new volunteers. North Yorkshire Sport also recommended that clubs/organisations make sure they communicate with their workforce in the same way they do their members and participants, to keep them in the loop with plans and reassure them that the organisation is creating or has created a safe environment for them to come back to. 

Operational Considerations

Our panellists shared some of the other key issues that clubs and delivery organisations have expressed concern about, as well as those they anticipate will come up in the future. These include risk management and health and safety considerations, such as effective cleaning of equipment, plus understanding and properly implementing Government and NGB guidance. Active Essex also explained that they have received queries around funding support, and panellists agreed that finances are likely to be an issue for clubs/organisations now and in the future. Facility access could also prove difficult for those who rely on school and public indoor spaces, with the potential that these may not be available to the same extent as pre-lockdown if they need to be repurposed as extra classroom areas or gyms. In addition, British Canoeing relayed that some of their clubs/delivery organisations have concerns around their insurance and their duty of care responsibilities going forward.

The panel agreed that the response from across the sector and the variety of ‘Return to Play’ resources available, including from Club Matters, is really positive and can help clubs/groups to fully consider and overcome these issues. It was also noted that clubs and delivery organisations have used the lockdown as an opportunity to test and introduce new technology, online tools and different ways of working to support operations, which is helping them to save time and money as well as progressing as a club/organisation.

Sector Support and Top Tips

Many organisations across the sector have been hard at work supporting clubs and delivery organisations throughout lockdown, and will continue to do so as they return. Our panellists shared a couple of the different ways they have been doing this, including:

  • 1:1 consultation with clubs/groups where possible.
  • Developing a range of resources specific to their sport, including FAQ documents.
  • Conducting research into specific aspects of how the sport / clubs are being impacted.
  • Running online sessions and webinars to discuss key issues.
  • Sharing communications and updating clubs and groups regularly.
  • Signposting clubs/groups to Club Matters resources.

Our panellists shared the following advice for partners across the sector to help them continue providing the best possible support for clubs, groups and delivery organisations:

  • Communicate with your clubs and groups regularly and clearly, to keep them updated.
  • Don’t rush when releasing resources and guidance or reopening – take the time to make sure you get it right.
  • Think smart! For example, if you’re considering producing a new resource, check if something similar has/is already being done by another organisation or Club Matters that you could signpost to. This saves you time that can be used for other efforts.
  • Look ahead and try to plan for things as far in advance as you can. Also, encourage clubs and groups to start thinking about the future beyond their reopening too.

Club Matters would like to thank our panellists for their time and the valuable insight they shared. This unprecedented and challenging period provides a key opportunity to learn from each other and share good practice to enable members, participants and volunteers to continue to have safe and enjoyable experiences. If you’d like more information on the different considerations that clubs and delivery organisations may need to think about as they come back, check out our full Return to Play resource series