Cost of living chill leaves grassroots sport at risk of big freeze

By Sported |  8 November 2023

Grassroots sport is struggling to cope with a double whammy that could threaten community clubs across the country and kick our young people into touch.

New research from charity Sported is highlighting how cost hikes are leaving kids out in the cold as price rises and other cost of living impacts are having a major knock on participation.

And with grassroots organisations acting as a major source of help for our next generation in addressing areas such as mental health, crime prevention and social inclusion, the figures illustrate the need for greater support for a sector whose impact is felt on streets up and down the country.

From research undertaken from among Sported’s 3,000 community groups across the UK, over nine in ten of those polled claimed they are concerned about the impacts of the current economic pressures on their group.

55% have seen a reduction in financial support over the past six months in a sector where around one-third of groups receive no funding from local government or governing bodies. 54% have dealt with a significant rise in utility bills while 52% have experienced a significant increase in fees for using a facility.  

While on the other side of that coin, 60% of group leaders said they have seen kids who cannot afford activities, 56% had issues from young people being unable to afford kit or clothing, and over half have seen reductions in participation in, or disengagement from, sport and physical activity.

These trusted local groups, often led by volunteers, play a critical role in transforming the lives of young people with more than a quarter addressing crime and anti-social behaviour and over half delivering on health and wellbeing.

However 34% have reported that their young people are facing mental health challenges. This figure has increased by 5% since Spring 2023 while leaders are predicting that this proportion will almost double in the next six months.

“Mental health is so important for young people,” said Joe Donnelly, founder of Belfast-based awareness charity Tahmi. “You see the pressures that they are under now: from school, at home, with social media, and everything else.

“Sport and exercise is a great way to address that. It takes them out of their daily lives and into a safe space. And it’s more important than ever that they get the support to have that opportunity.”

Sported’s Community Pulse survey of October 2023 has flagged up that two-thirds of groups want to do more to improve young people’s health and wellbeing but government and other agencies must realise the value of their efforts and lend their support, said Sported’s Deputy CEO Tom Burstow.

“We see a growing gap at present where grassroots groups are being hit financially by rising costs and have significantly dipped into their reserves. However cost of living increases mean there is less spare cash for young people to participate, even when fees have been reduced or made free.

“That not only puts the ecosystem of community sport at risk but also threatens to shut out our next generation from getting the brilliant support they get for their health and wellbeing by coming to these clubs, and the benefits society at large reaps from this activity.

“Now, more than ever, sits an opportunity for government at a national and local level to realise the value of these assets in our communities and work with groups to give young people the opportunities they deserve.”

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