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Return to Play: Small Grants

This £15 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 and getting people active for the first time after it.

About the fund

This fund makes awards using National Lottery and government funding, of between £300 and £10,000 from a total pot of £15m, to help clubs and organisations providing sport and physical activity respond to the immediate challenges of returning to play in a coronavirus-safe way.

This could include contributing to covering the increased costs due to changing how or where you deliver your activity – for example, you require more coaches due to having to deliver activity in smaller groups than normal or having additional hygiene and safety equipment.

Funding could also be used for minor amendments to facilities to allow social distancing, additional sports equipment to minimise sharing, and training courses to help you deliver your activities safely. 

We also know many people have had their activity levels significantly changed due to the pandemic and may not wish to return to their previous activity.

This may be because of health concerns, such as not wishing to travel far or because of fears on social distancing.

Therefore, we’ll now consider new or adapted projects that respond to the needs of participants and help people to get active again.

Key information

  • Awards of £300-£10,000 are possible
  • Awards are to help with essential changes to services or facilities and for new projects responding to the need to offer alternatives as a result of the pandemic.
  • All applications should be focused on responding to the effects of the pandemic.
  • Applications should be in line with the government's national and local guidelines at the time you apply.
  • Applications can be received by not-for-profit organisations.
  • As a guide, we'll consider applications for projects six months in length - longer projects will be considered under exceptional circumstances.
  • The programme will close for applications on 23 December 2021.
  • We'll launch our Queen's Platinum Jubilee Activity Fund in January 2022, which will provide funding of up to £10,000 for sport and physical activity projects tackling inequalities and building stronger communities - more information about this fund will be available in due course.

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

Funding priorities

Unfortunately we only have limited funds available and may not always be able to fund all eligible projects.

When this happens we’ll apply two levels of funding priorities which are based on the available insight.

Highest priority

  • Projects located in areas of high deprivation (decile 1-3 of the Indices of Deprivation), as we know that organisations in the most deprived areas have been particularly badly hit by the pandemic. To see which decile your project location fits into, you can use this postcode checker.

Other funding priorities

  • We particularly encourage applications from organisations working with communities who’ve suffered worse health outcomes and the most significantly reduced activity levels as a result of the pandemic. Our insight currently shows this to be girls and women, young people aged 16-24 and older people aged 70+.

Whilst the above are our priorities, it doesn’t mean we won’t support groups working beyond them, just that your application stands a stronger chance of success if it supports them and we have too many fundable applications.

We’ve always tried to address inequalities through our funding so encourage applications from organisations who support people on low incomes, people with a long-term health condition or disabled people, Black, Asian and other diverse communities, and LGBTQ+ people.

Responding to the relaxing of restrictions

As restrictions relax and activity becomes available again, the types of projects we can fund will change.

We'll assess your project against the current government guidance on safely returning to activity and we'll be unable to make awards that go against it.

Similarly, if you’re requesting funding for adaptations that aren’t currently required, we’re unlikely to support those costs – even if it was correct at the time the application was submitted.

While most sports are now able to resume due to the current stage of the government’s roadmap, we recognise that not everyone will want to return to what they were doing before and may be cautious about getting active again.

We’ll therefore now consider new or expanded projects that will safely deliver activities allowing people to become active – addressing challenges their audiences faced during lockdown.

An example of this could be adding different sports to the provision previously offered by your organisation to offer people an alternative, or simply increase capacity to be able to deliver to more people at one time.

In assessing these new projects we’ll be looking for innovative approaches to delivery that remove barriers and encourage all sorts of people to get active.

Running Costs

Only organisations based in, or are supporting, IMD 1-3 (Indices of Deprivation) can seek support towards ongoing running costs – for example, rent, utilities and insurance.

This is capped at a maximum of £1,000 and will only be considered with an eligible funding request – we’ll not solely support only running costs.

Please see more details in the ‘What we can fund’ section below.

Eligible organisations/activities located in IMD 4-10 can apply to Return to Play: Active Together to seek support towards running costs.

Who and what we'll fund

  • Who can apply

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

    Our funding will support projects delivering recognised sports and physical activity, barring exceptions detailed below, and a full list of which can be found here.

    Your organisation can apply to Return to Play: Small Grants if you're:

    • a not-for-profit voluntary or community group, or sports club
    • a registered charity
    • a not-for-profit company
    • a community interest company (CIC) or other social enterprise
    • a leisure operator, operating a single site
    • a parish or town council.


    We won't be able to fund any football-only projects through this funding.

    However, we've worked with The FA and Football Foundation on a £2.1m Return to Football Fund to support a safe restart to the game from 29 March.

    The fund will prioritise groups most impacted by coronavirus, including disability leagues, the Women’s National League and clubs and community organisations located in the 30% most deprived communities in the country.

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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, sole trader or organisation with less than three people
    • 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.
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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 and modifications, e.g. safety screening and contactless payment systems
    • Additional safety or medical adaptations which support facilities to reopen and participants to return to a safe environment
    • Defibrillators and associated costs as part of a wider return to play project.

    Service alterations

    • Volunteer training, e.g. health and safety requirements, risk assessments, medical training 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. For example, 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.

    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
    • Additional equipment to support activities resume e.g. first aid provision.

    New/additional activity

    • Activity that provides opportunities to people who don't wish to return to previously delivered activity.
    • An organisation offering a new or additional activity to respond to demand, due to changing habits of participants.

    Running costs

    • We can now consider requests of up to £1,000 to contribute towards running costs (e.g. ongoing/monthly fixed costs such as rent or utilities) from organisations delivering their activities 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 won't support projects that are solely related to running costs, and any requests should be linked to your organisation's returning to play aspirations.
    • Where you're requesting running costs support, in IMD 1-3 areas only, please provide a breakdown to explain what this is covering - e.g. rent, electricity, insurance, and over what time period and why this is needed.
    • Eligible organisations, delivering recognised sports and activities, not working within IMD 1-3 areas, or requiring more than £1,000 towards running costs, should consider our Return to Play: Active Together crowdfunding initiative.
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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 £1,000 from our priority areas (IMD 1-3). Please note, any requests for running costs must form part of a wider returning to play request
    • loss of income
    • construction/refurbishment projects where building regulations approval or planning permission hasn't yet been obtained
    • replacement of equipment
    • existing coaching and other staffing costs
    • other than running costs for IMD areas 1-3, we can't 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
    • costs benefitting an individual (e.g. membership fees)
    • costs benefitting participants under five years of age
    • costs that aren't a direct responsibility of the applicant to cover
    • football-only/football dominant projects*.
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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

To make our process more simple, 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.

  • Submit 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.

Get started on your Return to Play: Small Grants application.

Apply now

After you've applied

We’ll try and get a decision to you as soon as possible. Usually this takes around three weeks, but we're experiencing a very high volume of interest in this programme so a decision may take longer.

Please bear with us as our funding teams respond to the huge demand for our funding. We’ll assess applications in the order they’re submitted. 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 request, 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 containing 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 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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Existing awardees

  • What you need to know

    • We can offer flexibility on start and end dates of our offer; we won’t expect delivery/activity to commence until national/local lockdown restrictions are lifted, we ask activity is resumed within six weeks of restrictions being lifted. We’re happy to discuss this on a case-by-case basis. However, If the above solution works there’s no need to contact us.
    • Where there’s an urgent need for additional aid to support running costs, which are eligible, we may consider an award Increase in line with our new criteria. We’ll ask that you consider the above solutions first, before contacting us but should this be needed please contact us to request an award increase. Please email in your request to please detail your unique reference number and organisation name in the subject title. 
    • For organisations in need of support towards running costs, where the sport or activity are recognised, please consider applying to our Return to Play: Active Together programme.

    If you have any questions, please email or call 03458 508 508.

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How the Return to Play Fund is progressing

How many applications have we had across the three branches of the fund so far? How many have been approved? How much funding have we allocated?

We've put together a handy tool that's constantly being updated to answer all those questions, and more.

We recommend viewing in full screen mode, where possible. If you encounter issues viewing the report using Internet Explorer, please try another browser.

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