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Return to Play: Small Grants

This £10 million fund focuses on awards of up to £10,000 that support clubs and community groups respond to the challenges of returning to play during the coronavirus pandemic.

Update: fund criteria

Following a brief pause of this fund to review the impact of the lockdown restrictions that all of England is now under, we’ve made three changes to the fund criteria to ensure we better help clubs and organisations:

  • We’ve relaxed the timeframe in which activity must be up and running to ‘within six weeks from the point of the national or local restrictions being lifted to allow your activity to return’ 
  • Applicants that support people from IMD areas 1-3 will be able to apply for up to £2,000 to cover running costs (for example rent, utilities and maintenance) as part of an overall return to play plan
  • We'll take a broader and more flexible approach for the types of projects which can be supported.

Applications submitted before the brief pause will be assessed and applicants will be able to review their plans in light of the changes to the funding criteria.

About the fund

The Return to Play: Small Grants fund seeks to support projects addressing the challenges coronavirus (Covid-19) has posed to people taking part in sport and physical activity.

A total of £10 million of National Lottery funding is available, with grants of between £300 and £10,000, to help not-for-profit community organisations create coronavirus-secure settings for community sport and physical activity to resume this winter.

The fund will have flexible priorities, to be able to best respond to the frequently changing challenges posed to community sport.

These could include having to deliver sport and physical activity in smaller groups, having the correct sanitation and safety equipment, not having enough sports equipment to safely deliver activities and having the appropriate training for club volunteers to ensure you're meeting the current guidelines - more information on which can be found at the links below.

Funding could therefore be used for minor amendments to facilities, additional sports equipment, signage, sanitation and training courses to help you deliver your activities safely.

Responding to the lockdown

In response to the England-wide lockdown restrictions that came into force on 5 November, this fund can also make a contribution of up to £2,000 towards the running costs of organisations supporting the most deprived communities (decile 1-3 of the Indices of Multiple Deprivation) to support them through winter. More guidance on this is in the 'funding priorities' section below.

Organisations not delivering within IMD1-3, or requiring more than £2,000 towards running costs, should consider our crowdfunding initiative Return to Play: Active Together.

A group of women participate in a mini-tramp exercise class outdoors

Funding priorities

As the regulations regarding what's appropriate for each sport continue to change, we'll regularly review the fund's priorities to ensure it responds to the challenges faced by those clubs and community groups most in need.

We'll assess your project against the current guidance on safely returning to the activity you provide, and we'll be unable to make awards that go against that guidance - even if it was correct at the time the application was submitted.

We're able to support and fund projects up to a maximum of six months. Please ensure you only apply for funding if you believe your project is ready to start within six weeks from the point of the national and/or local restrictions being lifted to allow your activity to return.

Decisions on awards will be guided by our current funding priorities, with the majority of funding directed towards projects meeting our highest priority.

We also have 'other funding priorities' which we'll also use to prioritise applications.

Highest priority

  • Projects located in areas of high deprivation (decile 1-3 of the Indices of Deprivation). To see which decile your project location fits into, you can use this postcode checker.

Other funding priorities

  • Organisations working with Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, people on lower incomes, disabled people, people with long-term health conditions and people experiencing a greater burden of care because of coronavirus.
  • Organisations that don't have a significant level of reserve funding available to utilise.

Sports and activities

Our funding will support projects delivering recognised sport and physical activity – a full list of which can be found here.

We won't be able to fund any football-only projects through this funding. However, we're working with the Football Foundation and The FA on a similar style small grants fund for football-only projects, which would be run by the Football Foundation.

We'll release details on this in the coming weeks.

Who and what we'll fund

  • Who can apply

    You don’t have to be a sports organisation to apply, however, sport should be an established and significant part of your core offer.

    Your organisation can apply if you're:

    • a not-for-profit voluntary group or sports club
    • a not-for-profit community club or organisatoin
    • a registered charity
    • a not-for-profit company
    • a community interest company (CIC) or other social enterprise
    • a leisure operator, operating a single site.
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  • Who can't apply

    There are some entities we won't currently be able to fund through our return to play funding.

    Your organisation can't apply if you're:

    • an individual or sole trader
    • a statutory body or educational establishment - including academies and universities
    • a leisure centre operator, operating more than one site
    • a national governing body or Active Partnership
    • a commercial/for profit entity
    • an organisation delivering football-only activities.

    Through various funds, we're committing up to £220.5 million of funding to help the sport and physical activity sector through the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

    You can find out more information about this package, which is a combination of National Lottery and government money, here.

    And you can find other ways to generate funding, here.

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  • What we can fund

    We can fund a wide range of costs and items specifically linking to returning to play during the coronavirus pandemic.

    We'll adopt a flexible approach on the types of projects we'll support. Below are some examples of what can be funded - if you're not sure whether we can fund an item, please speak to us before applying by calling 03458 508 508 or emailing

    Minor facility alterations

    • Reconfiguration/refurbishment to meet social distancing requirements
    • Changes required to adhere to published government guidance
    • Other coronavirus-related adaptations, repairs and modifications, e.g. safety screening and contactless payment systems.

    Service alterations

    • Volunteer training, e.g. health and safety requirements, risk assessments, etc.
    • Additional coaching/facility hire costs as a direct result of having to deliver to smaller group sizes
    • New ways of delivering activity for your existing participants/members. E.g. purchasing licenses to use online technology having had to change from delivery in a studio to now having to deliver online, where the classes already existed prior to coronavirus – the fund will not cover new activities that are being newly established for different audiences.

    Operational alterations

    • Signage/floor markings – maintaining social distance and avoiding congestion
    • Pre-visit guidance/marketing/communications – promoting good hygiene
    • Cleaning/hygiene – keeping facilities and equipment clean
    • Additional sports equipment/kit – minimising sharing.

    Running costs

    In addition to the above, in light of new England-wide lockdown restrictions, we can now consider requests of up to £2,000 to contribute towards running costs (eg rent or utilities) from organisations delivering their activities in the most deprived communities – those located in areas of high deprivation (decile 1-3 of the Indices of Deprivation). To see which decile your project location fits into, you can use this postcode checker.   

    It's important to note that we'll not support projects that are solely related to running costs, and any requests should be linked a your organisation's returning to play aspirations.

    Organisations not delivering within IMD1-3, or requiring more than £2,000 towards running costs, should consider our crowdfunding initiative Return to Play: Active Together.

    You can use this postcode checker to see which decile your project location fits into.

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  • What we won't fund

    Unfortunately, we can't fund everything, and this fund won't cover:

    • projects not clearly related to coronavirus challenges
    • running costs and utility bills     for projects located outside of our priority areas (IMD 1-3)
    • running costs and utility bills in excess of £2,000 from our priority areas (IMD 1-3). Please note that any requests for running costs must form part of a wider returning to play project
    • construction/refurbishment projects where building regulations approval or planning permission has not yet been obtained
    • replacement of equipment
    • existing coaching and other staffing costs
    • other than running costs for IMD areas 1-3, we cannot fund projects taking place or incurring costs before the date of a potential award offer letter – this includes any form of deposits and costs associated in submitting the application
    • projects not ready to begin within six weeks from national and/or local restrictions being lifted
    • activities designed to support solely new participants, new projects and start-up costs
    • costs benefitting an individual (e.g. membership fees)
    • costs benefitting participants under five years of age
    • retrospective funding - we're unable to support costs for items/goods/services already purchased/ordered
    • football-only projects*.

    *We already directly fund the Football Foundation, which funds a range of football projects. If you have a football-only project, we suggest contacting your FA County Association.

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  • We can't fund everything

    Please be aware that we only have limited funds available and therefore can't fund everything we'd like to, including some really good projects - if we can't fund your project, we'll tell you why.

The research you need

  • Target audiences

    We carry out a lot of research to help you with your application – the information below outlines some of the findings relating to the target audiences for this fund.

    People who feel worried or anxious about contracting coronavirus for a prolonged period

    • Concerns about contracting coronavirus and worries about the safety of family members, including those still shielding, can undermine good intentions to be active. We know from previous Active Lives data that people with medium-high levels of anxiety are already less active.
    • 7-in-10 adults remain worried about exercising with others and report they’d feel safer exercising at home rather than public spaces. Many people are not returning to their pre-coronavirus activity choices and may never return.
    • This demonstrates the importance of working with providers to find simple ways to manage this worry and anxiety as they reopen and restart, e.g. ongoing reassurance around key issues like hygiene, proximity to others and policing behaviour.
    • The longer people don't return to the activities they were doing before in the places and spaces they once did, the more challenging it’ll be for us to change their behaviours back.

    People disproportionately affected financially as a result of coronavirus

    • The financial uncertainty as a result of coronavirus has had a profound impact on people’s ability to be active.
    • For many people, a reduction in disposable income is leading to a reduction in sport or leisure spend, e.g. memberships and subscriptions, and this is likely to be further impacted by the ending of the furlough scheme.
    • In addition to this, we know people on lower incomes have less mental bandwidth to think about doing other things (such as being active). The chaos which can be caused by financial difficulties means people are less likely to be thinking about being fit and healthy.
    • Activities that are easy to do (reduce friction for this group)/free/low cost/provide good value for money, are likely to become more and more appealing and providers need to consider hybrid models to maintain their audiences in the short term. 

    People experiencing a greater burden of care because of coronavirus

    • A wide range of research suggests women have taken on greater amounts of caring responsibilities and 72% of parent carers of disabled children provided more care during lockdown than before.
    • For many, this means less available time and significantly reduced mental bandwidth to think about being active. Many continue to worry about the impacts of coronavirus on those they care for.
    • The gradual return to workplaces and children returning to school, education and childcare may create an increase in time, for some, and the bandwidth to think about being active again.
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Preparing your application

We'll be looking for information on the areas noted below. Make sure to tell us about how your application will address these points.

About your project

Think about the people you're going to work with, why they need this project and the impact it'll have on them.


Tell us the resources you need to deliver the outcomes and how you'll ensure your project is a success.


A breakdown of what any potential funding will be spent on.

Supporting documents

We don’t require you to provide any supporting documents at the time of application.

Should you be successful in securing grant funding, however, as a minimum we’ll require evidence of a bank account set up in the name of your organisation.

Register your organisation

If you've not applied before, you'll need to register your organisation before you can start an application - you can do this here.

Complete your application

We're looking for the best ideas, not the best written applications, and you should only write something you think really helps us understand how good your project is.

Focus on the points detailed above and use the guidance available by clicking on the '?' icon next to each question on the application form for more help.

After you've applied

We aim to let you know our decision within three weeks. If we need some more information, we may contact you.

Please be aware that we only have limited funds available and therefore we can’t fund everything we’d like to, including some really good projects. If we can’t fund your project, we'll tell you why.

  • If you're successful

    If you're successful, you'll receive an award agreement by email, stating the purpose of the award and contains our terms and conditions, along with our monitoring and evaluation requirements.

    It'll also contain forms you'll need to fill in to accept and claim your award. Please read your award letter carefully and keep it safe for future reference.

    For sports that we deem higher risk, appropriate affiliation to the national governing body will be required.

    Your grant is intended specifically for what you've applied for, and any proposed changes should be discussed with us in advance.

    You should also keep all receipts and evidence of expenditure. Payments for goods and services for the project should be made directly from the organisation’s bank account (i.e. not by cash) as we may request bank statements to verify project expenditure.

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Apply now

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