Grassroots clubs from deprived and ethnically diverse communities face the biggest challenges in returning to organised community activity post-lockdown, research conducted by the Sport and Recreation Alliance reveals.
The findings offer one of the most comprehensive pictures so far of how the pandemic has impacted certain social groups and their ability to take part in sport and physical activity.
According to the Sport and Recreation Alliance’s research, participation opportunities in the most deprived areas of the country are expected to fall by 48% compared with just 2% in the least deprived areas.
With many clubs operating in these areas dependent on school facilities for the delivery of their activities, the lack of access to space behind the school gates was reported to be the main limiting factor when looking at a return to activity.
Clubs with an ethnically diverse membership projected a 69% rate of return among their participants, with this number declining even further for children and young people.
Those serving ethnically diverse, deprived or urban communities also consistently reported needing greater financial assistance to reinstate active opportunities – £5,000 more on average than those working in other areas.
Trying to safeguard their long-term future continued to be a concern for these clubs who expect to experience a 25% fall in the number of paid coaching staff once activity begins again after lockdown.
Equally, organisations with more ethnically diverse memberships reported that they expect to lose 13% of volunteer coaches and 14% of volunteers in other roles compared to the overall average figures of 2% and 8% respectively.
Lisa Wainwright, CEO at the Sport and Recreation Alliance, said: “The effects of the pandemic have been felt by every single one of us, but our research serves as a powerful reminder that it has not impacted everyone equally.
“We’ve highlighted issues around facilities, membership levels and the sport and physical activity workforce, and one underlying concern seen throughout has been that certain demographics have been hit harder than others.
“We need to make sure that we focus our efforts on improving inclusion and accessibility in each one of these areas to help bridge the sizable inequalities in activity levels that continue to persist across the country.
“Greater participation brings with it greater demand for facilities which creates more job opportunities. If we invest wisely and ensure that people from all communities feel comfortable returning to activity but also have the platform to be able to do so, the nation will have the best possible chance of recovering strongly from the pandemic.
“Our new strategy sets out a clear ambition to provide more meaningful opportunities for everyone, from the pitch through to the boardroom.
“We urge all those in our sector to join us in making sure the benefits of sport, recreation and physical activity are available to all.
Ollie Dudfield, Executive Director of the Sport for Development Coalition added: “The impacts of COVID-19 have been strikingly unequal and, in most instances, have replicated pre-existing health and social inequalities across the UK.
“Research from the Sport and Recreation Alliance shows that the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on ethnically and culturally diverse communities, and in low-income neighbourhoods, has been mirrored in community sport, which correlates strongly with research and insight from across the 180 organisations and networks that make up the Sport for Development Coalition.
“There is particular concern across the Coalition regarding the medium and long-term effect of these findings on the positive social outcomes that community sport and sport for development can contribute to, including improved mental health and wellbeing, enhanced education or employment prospects, and reducing anti-social behaviour and entry into the justice system.
“In response, flexible funding and commissioning approaches that are proportionate to need and prioritise support for organisations led by the communities they serve, will be even more important. As will enhanced partnerships with health, education, criminal justice and the wider voluntary sector, to ensure community sport is positioned as an important contributor to joined-up efforts to level up the country and tackle the deep-rooted inequalities which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.”
The research, led by Richard Boardman and the research and development team at the Alliance, will now be shared with our members and we will use the findings to identify issues in the sector and highlight where support is required.