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This is what innovative volunteering looks like!

To mark the start of Disability History Month, our strategic lead for volunteering blogs about the need for innovation in volunteering programmes and how major sporting events like the Rugby League World Cup, now on its final week, have become platforms for inclusivity in this area.

16th November 2022

by Jenny Betteridge
Strategic lead volunteering, Sport England

Sometimes innovation seems hard, or the word itself puts people off - imagining that to be innovative, you have to do something high-tech or world-changing.

But innovation is simply to try something new - big or small.

For the last four years, our clubs and volunteering team have been supporting partners to try new things.

Volunteering at and around major sporting events is one of the areas we've been exploring - to look at volunteering differently by welcoming in those who might not be a typical ‘sports volunteer’.

A good example for this innovative approach is the partnership between the Rugby League World Cup and the Community Integrated Care’s inclusive volunteering programme for people with learning disabilities and additional support needs.

One such volunteer is Jenny Robinson, who has a learning disability and signed up for Community Integrated Care’s inclusive volunteering programme in 2020 - a programme supported by us with National Lottery funding. 

Jenny recently shared her story with The Sunday Times as part of the This Girl Can partnership with their Sportswomen of the Year (SWOTY) Awards. 

She’s been volunteering at the Rugby League World Cup as part of a truly innovative and inclusive volunteer programme.

She also volunteered at the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 this summer and has a volunteer role with her team, the Leeds Rhinos rugby league club, as a volunteer media assistant, and said that volunteering really helped her with the sense of isolation she felt during the pandemic.

Volunteering at and around major sporting events is one of the areas we have been exploring - to look at volunteering differently by welcoming in those who might not be a typical ‘sports volunteer’.

Back in 2019, we commissioned research to find out who volunteered at major sporting events.

The report showed there were unexplored opportunities for greater diversity amongst those who could get involved with high-profile sporting events, like the Commonwealth Games, the 2022 Euros or the Rugby League World Cup. 

For example, the research highlighted that only 9% of those major event volunteers surveyed said they had a disability or long-term health condition, compared to 12% of the population.

We know through our Active Lives Survey, that volunteering can bring personal and community benefits for those giving their time.

Positive outcomes for volunteers can include improved mental wellbeing, making friends, and developing skills.

And we want everyone to be able to benefit from this experience.

But there are gains for organisations too, as volunteers bring their ideas and skills and support even more people to enjoy getting active.

Following the report, we launched a small innovation fund, the Major Event Volunteering Fund 2019-2021, to work with partners who wanted to pilot innovative and inclusive approaches to event volunteering.

With the support of Lottery funding, we were able to help lessen the risk of trying new things.

The Rugby League World Cup team and the charity Community Integrated Care were both separately supported by Sport England funding. With investment from the Major Event Volunteer Fund and our Disability Partners funding, they brought their work together to create their ground-breaking inclusive volunteer programme.

Despite the tournament being delayed by a year, they have launched a range of accessible and aspirational volunteering opportunities for 361 people who have care and support needs.

With roles coordinated by Community Integrated Care, individuals are volunteering alongside their families or support workers in a variety of roles throughout the 61 fixtures of the tournament across operations, spectator services and digital and media teams.  

The tournament is still ongoing, but this partnership has generated lots of interest. Community Integrated Care are now growing their event volunteering work to include the UEFA Women’s Euros this summer and the World Gymnastics Championships 2022 in Liverpool.

They have changed the expectations of what major event volunteering can be.

Further reading

To explore more about Sport England’s ‘test & learn’ Volunteering Funds 2017-21, please read our final report.

Or catch up on some mini-innovations led by community clubs and groups during the pandemic.

Volunteering is changing and if you’d like to explore more about what the future could hold, and how innovation can be an ‘everyday’ thing, please see our partnership with Vision for Volunteering.

Vision for Volunteering is a 10-year movement for volunteering in the UK, with five central themes including “experimentation”.

If you are looking at volunteering differently and innovating, get in touch as we would love to hear from you.

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