Early in 2015, we began discussions with England Boxing and Sport England to investigate how Sported’s membership network (comprising 300 amateur boxing clubs in England alone) and unique volunteer mentor support service could be further leveraged to aid the long-term development and sustainability of the amateur boxing sector.
In addition, with funding available to boxing clubs as part of Sport England’s 2013-17 Whole Sports Plan investment, it was identified that many clubs could benefit significantly from support to build their capacity and capability prior to being awarded funding in order that investment opportunities could be maximised and their sustainability enhanced.
Out of these discussions, Box On – our joint partnership with England Boxing – was born.
Following the successful Box On pilot in 2015, throughout 2016 I have had the pleasure of overseeing the roll out of the programme to 67 boxing clubs across England. Apart from boxing, what all these clubs have in common is that they use the sport as a tool to drive social change and improve young lives in their communities.
What’s unique about the Box On programme is that it utilises training and development practices – traditionally used within the private and third sectors – to facilitate growth and sustainability of organisations in the Sport for Development sector, and in particular boxing clubs.
The training involved two participants from each club (often the club leaders/managers, who are responsible day-to-day delivery and operations) attending a two day workshop which covered a number of business-focused modules such as financial management, marketing and asset management. The training also provided the club leaders with opportunities to network, exchange ideas and best practice (for example, about how to generate revenue when facilities aren’t being used), and share the heart-warming stories about how their clubs are changing young people’s lives.
Without the dedication of people like this, who routinely get little or no financial return for their work and often financially prop up the clubs with their own money, many boxing clubs – and indeed grassroots organisations – wouldn’t be able to continue operating.
A key challenge identified across the board with boxing clubs is maintaining their facilities. All of the clubs have different relationships, and in many cases gain support from their local authority by operating from their venues on long-term leases. What’s unique to boxing clubs, as opposed to many other sports, is that they require a dedicated venue – somewhere where their bulky equipment can be stored indefinitely – subsequently placing significant cost burdens on the clubs themselves. This is perhaps exacerbated by the fact that they often only have the ability to generate a small amount of income from subscriptions in the evenings.
What is apparent more than ever is that these clubs strive to deliver long-term change within their communities. Without their existence – often in the country’s most economically deprived areas – some of the social challenges facing the local community would be much worse. The volunteers at these clubs act as trainers, coaches and mentors for their young people. On some occasions, offering discipline in young people’s lives that otherwise may be absent. There are many stories about change and how volunteers go over and above their role as coach and are able to command respect and discipline from young people, where in other parts of their lives it may not exist.
I strongly believe that there are many inconsistencies about how boxing is viewed. There’s often the assumption that boxing is a full-contact violent sport, however only a small number of clubs actually partake in boxing competitions. Instead they train, undertake fitness sessions, advise on health and well-being, and in a growing number, deliver education and employment initiatives.
The Box On programme is principally aimed at supporting clubs to become more sustainable, increase their capacity and continue to impact their communities for generations to come. Participants were encouraged through a visioning process to look at their aspirations and identify the key milestones in getting there. They were then paired with a Sported volunteer mentor who supported them to create a business plan to help them achieve it.
The business plans developed were exceptional – something that, traditionally, boxing clubs have not been the best at embracing. But it shows you that with the right knowledge and guidance you can help clubs reframe how they think about their finances and adopt a more business, long-term strategic approach.
Another key component of the programme is that the business plans created provided the foundations for the clubs’ respective grant applications to Sport England. The fact that, to date, £365K in Sport England grants have been collectively awarded to Box On clubs (with a further £410K pending) is testament to how well participants embraced the programme and the hard work of Sported’s own volunteers in supporting them.
The entire Box On programme is unique in that it undertakes a more focused business approach to sport development and growth. Investigating the key organisational barriers and seeking to overcome these. Through this journey the clubs, in developing their plans for sustainability, are now in a position to see their visions become a reality.