Tackling the diversity challenge in sport volunteering

Posted on the 6th June 2018

Sports clubs and groups attract more volunteers than any other sector: over 6 million people give up their time, skills and enthusiasm to help others get active.

Without volunteers, most sport and physical activity would simply not happen, whether that’s a local cycling club, ParkRun, or community Zumba session. Not only do volunteers deliver activity, they also enhance the experience, making people welcome and encouraging them to return. However, underneath this success story there lies a challenge.

What is the challenge?

Sport England’s Active Lives Survey results reveal a stark gender gap in sports volunteering with men making up 60% of current volunteers and women 40%, in contrast to volunteering across other sectors. Male volunteers are also more likely to hold positions of influence as coaches, officials and committee members. And, while people from lower socio-economic backgrounds make up 31% of the population, they only make up 10% of the volunteers in sport.

Over 6 million people give up their time, skills and enthusiasm to help others get active... However, underneath this success story there lies a challenge.

What can be done?

Sport England’s Volunteering Strategy sets out an ambition not just to increase the number of people volunteering to support sport physical activity but also to ensure that a more diverse range of people can get involved and experience the benefits. In November, we invested £4.4 million of National Lottery funds in 32 projects to begin that work.

Women in sport

Last year’s Women in Sport study told us issues like gender stereotypes and a lack of flexible roles need to be addressed if we’re to get more women involved. To build our understanding, we are analysing our Active Lives data to understand how women engage with volunteering in sport over the course of their lives and what roles may appeal at different life stages.

Participants of the She's Ready programme.

Participants of the She's Ready programme.

She’s Ready, run by Active for Life for a Healthier You, is one of the projects we’ve funded to empower women to shape their own volunteering experiences by designing the roles themselves. The project is aimed at women in Southend experiencing life-changing circumstances and challenges, including disabled women, mothers with small children, those who have suffered domestic violence, and retirees. 200 women will be empowered to undertake different volunteering roles – from occasional opportunities to running classes and events to increase physical activity in their community.

Socioeconomic status

Engaging people with lower socioeconomic status to volunteer isn’t a challenge unique to the sport sector, as NCVO’s Getting Involved report highlights. The barriers to taking part are often complex and multi-layered and the projects we have funded in economically disadvantaged areas are aimed at helping us understand how to address them. Sustrans will be working with residents from Weston housing estate in Southampton. Through volunteering, the WAVes (Weston Active Volunteers) project aims to improve participants’ mental wellbeing and support individual and community development. They will be working with people at a community level, street by street, to co-create the type of volunteering and physical activity they want.

Young volunteers

Young people want to volunteer in sport but the opportunities they want often aren’t out there. Through our partnership with the #iwill campaign and the #iwill fund, we’re creating more opportunities for young people to make a difference through sport and social action, while supporting them to develop their skills and improve their mental wellbeing. Our project with Volunteer It Yourself combines volunteering and DIY, challenging young people aged 14-24 to learn trade and building skills, whilst helping grassroots and community sports clubs improve and repair facilities.

Volunteers on the Volunteer It Yourself programme.

Volunteers on the Volunteer It Yourself programme.

Sport England is able to fund the projects thanks to the generosity of National Lottery players and the money they raise for good causes. We’re looking forward to sharing our learning to help increase diversity with the sport sector and beyond. Find out more about the projects we fund here and tell us about your experiences at volunteering@sportengland.org.uk.

Kristen Stephenson

Kristen is head of volunteering at Sport England.

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