We believe that community sport offers an excellent vehicle for councils to achieve key aims, like improved public health but also as a way to build better networks, achieve stronger more resilient communities and develop an array of opportunities that support children, women, men, older people, disabled people and BME communities access wider community assets and networks.
But council provision for community sport is under threat. With about half of spending cuts to go, discretionary spending on things like sport becomes more and more vulnerable.
We are scoping a project on councils and community sport and are looking for partners and funders to make this happen. Outputs might include:
- toolkits for sports clubs and councils to assess the impact of sport on community,
- packs to help impassioned councillors, officers and sports men and women protect community sport,
- case studies on how councils and clubs can work together more constructively to achieve community aims
- innovations on collaborative working to protect and expand sporting assets and access
Our key research themes are as follows. What do you think of the potential range of outputs and research aims?
Research Aim One: Establishing the value of community sport from a local authority perspective
Local authorities are responsible for public health – and thus for getting people moving. Exercise is one of the key determinants of health. But another important determinant of health is the strength of your social network – recent research suggests that it’s more important to health outcomes than levels of smoking or obesity. Community sport contributes to both.
Perhaps just as importantly sport provides a social network which can provide an array of benefits to members, such as:
- Professional networks
- Wider friendship networks that bring both positive mental health benefits and enjoyment, but access to skills and support
- Personal and professional skill development (e.g. through training and experience in coaching, first aid, child welfare, etc)
Local authorities are also responsible for the broader welfare of their communities: Volunteering, community resilience and economic development – community sport also contributes to these aims.
Participation in sport supports the kind of communities we all aspire to – strong, healthy communities with deep and extensive social networks that bolster individual and community resilience. This is what councils want for their communities, but there has not always been a strong enough relationship between local sports clubs and associations and councils.
At the national level, there has not been enough recognition of the value community sport can play in developing stronger communities and individuals – and particularly the importance of equal access to sporting activities – so that men, women, class and minority groups have access to the health and wealth benefits of sport.
Research Aim Two: Understanding the relationship between councils and community sport
Local authorities are responsible for more sport and culture funding than Central Government and the National Lottery combined. But councils face genuine financial dilemmas. As some struggle to meet statutory requirements, others are cutting back on ‘discretionary’ services – such as sport – and in particular pitch and greens maintenance and the maintenance and development of facilities such as storage, changing rooms, etc. Recent surveys of council’s budget priorities by the LGA show that sport and recreation is among the most targeted for savings and among the least likely to be actively protected by councillors (4%).
Sporting organisations are reporting the removal of maintenance or the doubling or trebling of usage fees – which puts potentially fatal pressure on clubs which traditionally operate on a knife edge. Team sports which rely on council fields, like football, bowls and hockey are particularly vulnerable – but other sports – like rugby and cricket – have growth and expansion threatened.
Research Aim Three: Identifying strategies to improve the effectiveness of council strategies toward sport
To protect spending on sport – impassioned councillors, officers and citizens must be armed with the information and the strategies that demonstrate the effectiveness of sport in achieving council aims.
In a lot of cases money isn’t there, but neither is the trust. Councils must work more effectively with local sport clubs and associations. The FA has reported that many of its grassroots members are ‘sneaking around’ doing maintenance to council owned equipment sheds and changing rooms. People who are passionate about their sport and the benefits it provides to their local communities will step up to protect sport, but they must be enabled and authorized to do so. There has been a reluctance to pass over control, but councils must start enabling where they can no longer provide.
Other areas for investigation:
- Spending on community sport and reductions to spending on community sport
- Community trust and community asset provisions being used effectively for sport.
- Promotion of equal opportunity access to sport – particularly encouraging amateur and team sport to women and girls.