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16 Apr 2021 | 9:09

The Sport for Development Coalition emphasised the huge opportunity that exists to deliver important wider social outcomes through community sport, and support recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, when appearing at a recent DCMS Committee hearing on ‘Sport in our Communities’. 

Much of the debate around the return to play and activity following the third lockdown has centred on the benefits to physical health and fitness. 

However the Coalition’s Executive Director, Ollie Dudfield, was keen to outline to MPs the role that sport and physical activity-based interventions can, and are playing, in contributing to other important outcomes as policy-makers look to support and invest in solutions and remedies for the negative impacts and ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic.


Long before the pandemic, sport was` being used to generate a wide range of positive social outcomes; from helping to sustain and improve mental wellbeing amongst vulnerable individuals, to increasing community cohesion and reducing anti-social behaviour and entry into the criminal justice system for at-risk young people; from preventing school exclusions and increasing educational attainment, to improving employability skills and tackling youth unemployment. 

All have been identified as key issues by Government – including in its 2021 Budget – as it seeks to aid and accelerate recovery from the pandemic, in parallel with the vaccination programme. 

“The network that makes up the Sport for Development Coalition is primarily focused on the wider outcomes that community sports can deliver,” Ollie explained, when asked by MPs on the Committee how the Coalition and its members have responded to the pandemic.

Greenhouse Sports

“The focus has been on the impact of the various restrictions and lockdowns on the sector and some of these wider outcomes, whether it be supporting those furthest away from employment into the job market or supporting those at risk of exclusion from education, or indeed supporting connectivity within communities. 

“Community sport offers around £85billion per annum in returns in social and economic value. Over the last year the real focus across the Coalition has been the impact not on specifically the reduction in activity levels and memberships, but on those wider outcomes and the wider value that the sector can deliver.” 

Ollie also outlined how, with public sector funding being stretched more than ever before, evidence suggests that a shift away from centralised or “directive” approaches in the governance of community sport, to more local, placed-based approaches can offer a greater return on the funds provided, whilst also helping to minimise some of the inequalities that Covid has exacerbated because they are designed by people with lived experience of the issues facing them.


“It means bringing together the communities and the leaders of communities to design and deliver the interventions, and programmes like youth groups, community groups and sports clubs, as opposed to a more directive approach,” said Ollie, who speaking alongside Lisa Wainwright, Chief Executive of the Sport & Recreation Alliance. 

“To give you an example, Laureus Sport for Good is working with Nike, bringing together a coalition of community groups that govern and then deliver on the resource and funding they receive to get people more active. 

“Even over the lockdown, that approach of a coalition of community groups designing and delivering as per the need they have identified has led to almost 20% increases in the individuals they have engaged.”

VIDEO: Watch Ollie and Lisa Wainwright, Chief Executive of the Sport & Recreation Alliance, respond to Clive Efford MP and discuss how grassroots and community sport can help to achieve wider social outcomes beyond physical activity.

He added: “Another example that comes to mind is (from) the Active Partnerships network. Active Burngreave (in Sheffield, below) has brought together coalitions of different organisations and community groups. Those participating in the programmes delivered through that local coalition approach fully reflect the diversity of the ward. 

“It is important that the group and the coalition govern how the resource is utilised. There is usually a backbone support organisation and… an agreed way to measure, but it starts from governance and goes right down to the people, the place and the programmes that are utilised.” 

Some of the wider outcomes delivered by sport for development organisations – for example around health and criminal justice – “go well beyond the premise of this department” Ollie told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) oral evidence session. There is the “potential for ringfencing of support based on some of the wider outcomes that community sport can deliver,” he added.


“Coalition organisations like Street League and Sport for Life, which use sport to support employment outcomes, have been able to mobilise resources from the Third Sector and from outside sport based on their ability to continue to support young people furthest from the employment market.” 

Ollie cited another example in the ‘Holiday Activities and Food programme’ which saw £220million being made available by the Government to local authorities this year, with Coalition partners StreetGames and Active Partnerships responding to form a ‘Holiday Activities and Food Alliance’ and support the initiative. 

“It is about ensuring that the people, places and programming is addressing some of that holiday gap, is good quality, is inclusive and is diverse, and that the workforce that delivers that programme is able to do so in a way that helps to challenge some of the inequalities in the system,” he explained.

Active Burngreave

Ollie was also questioned about how the network, and particularly the wider social outcomes that it generates, had been impacted by the shift to online delivery during lockdowns. The Committee was interested in what future delivery might look like, with organisations having to work through some levels of restrictions – for example when supporting shielding and vulnerable individuals – for some time yet. 

He described the initial “panacea approach” to moving as much delivery online as possible, and how, as restrictions have relaxed or fluctuated, new and more reactive “hybrid” (both in-person and online) approaches have been developed. These adaptations by organisations across the sector have been highlighted by the Coalition’s ‘Adapt, Support, Respond’ initiative. 

Providing specific examples, he said: “School of Hard Knocks, which uses rugby and boxing methodology to support people back into employment, has moved an eight-week, two-day programme to a five-day intensive online programme.


’Get Set to Go’ is a partnership of local Minds across the country with primarily EFL clubs and Community Club Organisations, which has set up a range of diverse digital components for delivery, not just Zoom but closed social media groups and WhatsApp for reaching out. That was based on evidence that a lot of the benefits for mental health and wellbeing include that social connection component that organised physical activity and sport can bring. 

“They are two examples from across the Coalition of that adaptation.” 

Whilst highlighting the agility of many Coalition organisations, Ollie also warned of a “digital divide across the country” which meant many individuals in need have not been reached, and were at risk of exclusion unless their needs are addressed. 

“There are different levels of access to online and digital connectivity certainly across the organisations, community groups and charities that work in lower socio-economic communities. Disengaged or under-represented communities in the sector have seen that as a barrier to some of the adaptations.” 

Adapt, Support, Respond: Focusing on the outcomes achieved.

Pic credit: Greenhouse Sports, Active Burngreave / Yorkshire Sport.