Reaching the 'unreached' groups in Northern Ireland

By Sported |  22nd June 2021

Sport sector funding is actually missing those who need it most.


Across Northern Ireland, Sported has a close and widespread relationship with small, grassroots sports and community groups, having upskilled numerous group leaders and helped them to make their organisations more sustainable.  After ten years of providing this support, we have a deep understanding of the effectiveness of capacity building.  However, in some areas, no matter how much capacity building is provided, our groups tell us they can still feel like “the system is against them” and struggle to reach and benefit from the funding that purports to be on offer for groups like them, as our recent insight pieces have outlined in more detail:

1. Is grant funding designed in such a way that excludes those it is designed to support? (Jan, 21)

Feedback from the Sported network suggests that our hypothesis is correct– particularly for those focused on delivering in the most deprived areas – the bottom 20% IMD – and those with ethnically diverse participants. 

The report found that there are a number of common characteristics amongst community sports groups who are very good at meeting the specific needs of the marginalised young people, However, these same characteristics mean they are disadvantaged when it comes to applying for funds.

* Note – while this insight report focused on our network across England – our NI data was included and NI groups participated in the focus groups. Anecdotally, these core messages are what we hear from our NI network on the ground.

2. Surviving a Pandemic – groups’ needs (Feb, 2021)

This report explored Community Pulse data, collected between March ‘20 – Feb ‘21 via survey responses (900) and focus groups (18 groups). The report summarises the biggest needs and concerns reported by community groups in Sported’s UK-wide network throughout this time, which have consistently been around supporting the wellbeing of participants and addressing immediate and longer-term financial short falls.

Groups in Northern Ireland had 4.3 level of confidence in survival, based on their personal levels of resilience and being able to operate groups on tiny amounts of money through the pandemic (where 1 is not at all confident and 5 extremely confident). However, they have told us that “reopening feels like we are starting from scratch”, which led to us posing our third question.

3. Where are NI Groups accessing support? (June, 2021)

Whilst the insight gathered shows a wide range of support available from various stakeholders, only 39% of the Sported network respondents told us they ‘know where to go for support’ and, of those affiliated to their NGB, 27% of groups reported they were not effective at meeting their support needs.

Key findings:

  • Those affiliated to NGBs access support from them primarily around delivery of activities (e.g. coaching badges)
  • Local businesses are key funding sources for 44%. Anecdotally, we know this tends to be smaller, kit-sponsorship type relationships, and groups are uncertain how the pandemic will impact businesses’ likelihood to continue this support.
  • Sported is the key source of support around sustainability for 32% groups. While encouraging that Sported is recognised for the support provided in this area, we are concerned that there remain gaps across the sector in accessing this type / level of support.
  • Many groups operate outside the formal sports network – 25% of the Sported NI network (28% survey respondents) are not affiliated to an NGB and therefore not accessing the support and funding opportunities provided via these channels.

To identify these ‘gaps’ further, in the key area of funding, we analysed the characteristics of Sported members who have – and those who have not – accessed Covid emergency funding in the last 12 months.

4. Reaching the ‘unreached’ groups across NI

By analysing the open-source data available across the NI Government Database, Sport NI and 360 Giving (Trust & Foundations), we have identified a number of trends. It’s encouraging that, of those funded, 1 in 5 were from the highest areas of need, however, somewhat alarming that 40% of those not receiving financial support were also from those areas. We also identified a particular challenge for those who are not affiliated to an NGB, with 30% unfunded.

  • Considering all sports organisations who received funding (Sported members and non-members), 55% of groups received less than £2,000 emergency funding. More than half the groups only received very small grants. While any financial support is positive, it hasn’t really met the sustainability needs.
  • 21% of successful Sported members were in the top 10% IMD areas
  • Multisports groups received significantly less average amounts of funding, compared to those affiliated to a specific sport.

Of our network, 44% were ‘unreached’ by Covid-19 emergency funds:

  • 40% of these groups are in the top 3 IMD areas
  • 63% have no paid staff (84% have 2 or less paid staff – and these tend to be sports coaches on short-term contracts)
  • 30% are not affiliated to an NGB.



With all this in mind, Sported, on behalf of its 2,600 community sports groups, is calling on the sports sector to:

  • Recognise and respond to the gaps in provision around developing sustainability – particularly for those not affiliated to NGBs.
  • Ringfence funding for those most in need – and provide direct capacity-building support to upskill community leaders to develop strategies and apply for funding.
  • Consider utilising networks, such as Sported, to distribute funding to those most in need – including those not affiliated to NGBs or delivering multisports, health and wellbeing activity.

We believe that the NI sports sector is at risk of ‘missing’ those most in need, leaving many grassroots community groups and communities ‘unreached’.

We welcome the opportunity to discuss our insight in more detail and explore potential joint-working to ‘reach the unreached’ and empower the community leaders running the groups who provide such a vital lifeline to communities across Northern Ireland. 

“We really appreciate the support we receive from Sported and the time you take to let us talk through how things are at times, which has been a big help on occasions where we thought our Project was just invisible to many funders and partners out there

We believe the leverage gained from this funding opportunity being used in this way [capturing our impact] will be a catalyst to attracting immeasurable support from others as we move forward. Once again thankyou and your team for your continuing support.” 

Cruise Centre, Sported grant recipient  

Read more of our insight work