Sported and StreetGames: Elevating the voice of community sports groups

By Sported |  13th July 2022

It’s never been more important to listen to and elevate the voice of community sports groups and their young people across the UK. In turbulent times, with the country emerging from the pandemic into a historic cost-of-living crisis, understanding the challenges facing groups and how they’re responding is vital if we’re to best empower these groups and their communities.

It’s why Sported and StreetGames have teamed up to combine and elevate the voice of the organisations we support and advocate for. Between us we engage with a significant proportion of the UK’s community groups using the power of sport and physical activity to help young people overcome barriers and fulfil their potential. Together we’ve harnessed our research to identify the common ground – and differences – among our networks of community sports groups.

This blog post highlights what we’ve found in our recent consultations with our networks: Sported’s March 2022 Community Pulse survey and StreetGames’ Join Us/Update Us and Annual Network Survey insight from March and April 2022. Taken together, they represent the views of more than 4,000 trusted community organisations and give us real insight into the challenges that these groups and their communities face.

So, what is the situation for our community sports groups in 2022?

The good news is that confidence in organisational survival and financial stability in the short to medium term is relatively high. Responding to Sported’s Pulse, 92% of groups reported they are confident in organisational survival in the next six months. For StreetGames’ Locally Trusted Organisations (LTOs), three-quarters say they will, or should, be able to deliver activities over the next twelve months. Most groups have reopened following lockdowns and are getting back to delivering activities to their communities.

However, there is clear evidence that the disruption caused by the pandemic and repeated lockdowns is yet to clear. Community groups had to adapt at very short notice to new and incredibly difficult circumstances during the pandemic. Nearly two-thirds of StreetGames’ LTOs adapted their activities to another format (such as going online), and nearly half had to temporarily pause their delivery. A quarter simply had to stop delivering altogether.

With such changes it’s not surprising that groups are yet to see activity levels returning to pre-pandemic levels. Nearly three-quarters of respondents to Sported’s Pulse say current participation levels are below capacity – and of these, over half say they’re below pre-pandemic levels. Our evidence backs up wider research in this area which has shown that children’s activity levels have not recovered after the end of Covid restrictions.

It’s also clear that groups are striving to find the funding that will allow them to continue operating. Securing funding was the most reported priority across our groups, with more than half of StreetGames’ LTOs and three-quarters of Sported’s Pulse respondents identifying this as a pressing concern. Furthermore, there is significant concern around accessing safe, secure, and affordable spaces in which groups can deliver for their young people as well as having enough, and sufficiently trained, staff and volunteers available to carry out that delivery.

Young people’s mental health is an area of particular concern among groups. Community sports groups are at the front-line of this crisis and they understand only too well the importance of it in the communities they engage with. In Sported’s Pulse survey, groups cited mental health as the most significant challenge facing young people in their communities. As one group leader points out:

“Young people are facing feeling the repercussions of social isolation more so than anyone else. The mental health issues are varied. It has made it difficult for them to get back into society and is having an effect on their social skills.”

Given these issues, what are community sports groups focused on in the immediate future?

Supporting young people’s mental health and wellbeing is a common priority across the Sported and StreetGames networks. 92% of StreetGames’ LTOs are aiming to improve the mental health of young people, while over half of Sported’s Pulse respondents cited health and wellbeing as their priority for the year ahead. It’s clear that our groups don’t simply recognise the challenges around mental health in their communities: they will be (continuing) to lead the way in supporting young people’s health and wellbeing.

Our networks are also focused on helping marginalised and disadvantaged young people to engage in sport and physical activity. 93% of StreetGames’ LTOs are prioritising this goal, while large majorities of Pulse respondents told Sported that they’re looking to engage with new, or reconnect with existing, participants to involve them in activities. With young people’s activity rates struggling to return to pre-pandemic levels, and when persistent inequalities continue to limit young people’s access to sport and physical activity, our networks are prioritising tackling these issues head on.

These findings get to the heart of why Sported and StreetGames consult among our groups and why we’ve teamed up at this moment. In a post-pandemic world StreetGames is committed to supporting LTOs to re-build the sport and physical activity offers for their young people. Our approach to this is straightforward – Listening, Learning and Innovating. By understanding the needs of low-income children and young people in a post-pandemic world we can establish what works to increase their activity levels. For Sported, listening to and lifting the voice of our members means we can better empower the passionate, dedicated local people running vital community sports groups to tackle the issues most pressing for their groups and communities. It is central to our 2021-2025 strategy, Reach. Include. Empower.

It also reflects a shared commitment to insight-led organisational change, collaboratively changing the thinking, strategy, and practise of other organisations in the sports sector and beyond to better cater for young people in under-served communities. We’d value any opportunity to connect with those who share this vision. If that’s you, or if you’d like to find out more about Sported and StreetGames’ research, please get in touch.

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