It’s been a strange year. One like no other. A year which has been challenging for so many, but also a year of giving, of kindness, of community. A time when people have had the opportunity to give something back, to step up and to reach out.
Whether supporting communities through food banks, delivering medicines, or checking in on elderly neighbours, people up and down the country have embraced the chance to do something useful and kind with their time.
And at a time when sports clubs and organisations have faced unprecedented challenges, the invaluable role volunteers play in our sector has never been more apparent. It has always been the case that volunteers are the backbone of community sport and physical activity, without them so much activity simply wouldn’t happen. But now, more than ever, organisations and individuals who play, manage, lead or deliver sport or physical activity owe a huge thank you to the millions of people who are helping grassroots sport come through these difficult times.
Whether they helped develop health and safety procedures to ensure they could operate safely after lockdown, engaged their members in online training classes, or reached out to their participants to check they were OK, volunteers have been innovative and flexible. They have taken on more and different roles with the primary objective of supporting the physical and mental wellbeing of millions of people.
During the initial lockdown phase, 71% of sport and physical activity volunteers continued to volunteer in some capacity
Today marks International Volunteer Day, a time to celebrate volunteers and to recognise the impact their efforts have had on their local communities. As many clubs begin to reopen their doors once again after lockdown, it is the perfect time to appreciate the amazing efforts of our sector’s volunteers. To say 'thank you' for working so tirelessly to keep their clubs and community organisations going, for supporting their members, as well as the wider local community, and for going the extra mile.
Part of saying 'thank you' and making sure volunteers feel valued is continuing to support them. That’s why we’re continuing our support of Volunteer it Yourself, with a £2 million investment into the organisation that gives young people the opportunity to refurbish and repair youth and community facilities – gaining invaluable skills and qualifications in the process.
We know from our recent return to play research that volunteers were keen to step up and support their club or community organisation through the coronavirus crisis, often going above and beyond their usual commitment. However, it also warns of the risk of complacency that volunteers will be willing or able to continue to give so much. Pressure on volunteers has been, and continues to be, very real. Whilst many have returned, others haven’t done so yet, often due to health concerns, lack of time, or high anxiety, particularly among certain demographics.
Recognising and supporting those who give their time to enable sport and physical activity to happen has never been more important. But let’s also stay in touch and support those who want to help but may have concerns about coming back. Our newly published Volunteer Insight Guide shares evidence and best practice to ensure volunteers feel valued and appreciated, and have positive experiences. Understanding this and embedding it in practice will be key to helping our clubs and groups thrive at the heart of our communities for a long time to come.
Volunteers continue to play a critical role supporting people back into engaging in sport and physical activity. Taking a moment to say thank you can go a long way to helping create a sector in which volunteers feel valued and supported. A small gesture, which could make a big difference.