Community sports groups face biggest challenges yet, as they prepare to reopen.

By Sported |  25th March 2021

Sported unveils new research into the trials and tribulations experienced by groups during the Covid-19 pandemic. The research shows the challenges the groups have had to overcome, to survive the last year. Most importantly, it reveals that they now have a mountain to climb to get back to business as normal, as they re-open in the coming days.

Many groups have had little or no income from membership fees or subs and have had no staff able to apply for funding support for the best part of a year. Despite cashflow issues and concerns (41% of group leaders stated ‘knowledge of funding opportunities’ as their immediate support needs, at the beginning of 2021*), they are now preparing to swing open the doors to local young people, who may not have been socializing as normal for almost a year and, or, may be suffering from lack of mental wellbeing. At the beginning of 2021, the support needed around mental health had tripled since 2020*.

Pressure is on the exhausted group leaders to restart their groups and to navigate these issues, with reduced numbers of volunteers, additional government guidelines around social distancing and increased costs. These new challenges will be difficult to overcome, after a year of struggling to survive, which is why Sported is calling for essential support from the sector.

The report from Sported shows the journey the community groups have been on through the Emergency Phase (March – May 2020), where groups felt most uncertain about their future and the groups’ leaders were anxious about mental and physical health.

In the Refocus Phase (June – November 2020), group leaders were particularly concerned about maintaining the wellbeing of participants and immediate funding needs. Groups adapted activities to support young people where possible with online catch-ups, food delivery services and equipment libraries.

While the New Normal Phase (December 2020 – February 2021) brought with it more confidence around the simple survival of groups, readjusting to this new normal brought with it huge concerns around securing funding and worries about the difficulty of engaging and re-engaging young people. Sport and physical activity are often at least in part reliant on good habits – and those had all been lost in the lockdowns. There were also huge concerns around mental health, isolation and the existing inequalities that had been exacerbated by the pandemic: ‘Groups providing online activities for young disabled people faced more challenges, with 61% reporting difficulty keeping young people active or engaged.’*

‘Increased financial pressures were worse for disability sports groups with 67% identifying a need for emergency funding.’*

On the back of this extensive research, whch included over 900 survey responses, into the state of the community sports groups sector – the imminent challenges they face and the support they willl require to return to normal – Sported is highlighting the three areas they will most need help with:

  1. Funding opportunities
  2. Support with re-engaging young people
  3. Support with increasing their groups resilience and sustainability
Eric Dier Sported

“Many community sports groups are preparing to open up again from the end of this month….( in Wales and England and shortly after in Scotland and Northern Ireland). It’s great news for all the young people who have missed this important part of their lives over the past few months – and will provide not only the opportunity to regain fitness but also connections with friends and a boost to mental well-being.

Sported has done some research which shows that many of the amazing people who run community sports groups are facing real struggles with funding, a decreased number of volunteers, the worry about getting young people back to their clubs, particularly those most vulnerable. I know from my visit to a North London group that the last year has been incredibly tough for local leaders having to adapt to the ever-changing situation throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Sported is doing all it can to give the groups what they need to return….please do help in any way you can.”

Eric Dier, Sported Ambassador, England and Spurs footballer

“The community sports groups who have managed to survive this last year have already been through a lot. The efforts that they have gone through to stay afloat are amazing and to be respected. We have seen group leaders go above and beyond to keep connected with their young people. 

However, despite best efforts, many have used up financial reserves, struggled to maintain the vital personal connections they normally have with participants and some are struggling to secure facilities and maintain the same number of volunteers as pre-pandemic.

 This is the start of the beginning of the real challenge for them – and this is going to be the hardest part. What comes next, whether or not they get the support they need – more funding, support with re-connecting with young people and support with staying sustainable – is crucial. We are calling on the sector to come together to support grassroots groups during this difficult time.”

 – Nicola Walker, Sported CEO