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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.

About the fund

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

It seeks to help support sport and physical activity groups, clubs and organisations in responding to the immediate challenges of returning to play in a Covid-safe manner.

This could include contributing to covering the costs incurred by having to deliver activity in smaller groups than normal, or having the correct hygiene and safety equipment.

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

Key information

  • Awards of £300-£10,000 are possible
  • Awards are to help with essential changes to services or facilities
  • Applications should be focused on returning people to previously run activity, or enabling previous projects to adapt to resume delivery, when that's possible. At this time we're not looking to support new projects or start-ups.
  • Applications should be focused on the key funding priorities below.

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

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

Funding priorities

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 for 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.

We can't fund everything

Please note, we only have limited funds available and therefore can't fund everything we'd like to - including some good projects - so we've set two levels of funding priorities.

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 working with communities most severely impacted by coronavirus - in particular adults aged 16-34 or 70+.

Responding to the third lockdown

Following the announcement of the third national lockdown measures, we adapted this programme to help further. The changes include:

  • Organisations based in Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) 1-5 can now seek support towards ongoing running costs - for example rent, utilities and insurance. This is capped at a maximum of £3,000 and will only be considered with an eligible funding request. We won't solely support only running costs. Please see more details in the 'what we can fund' section.
  • Eligible organisations/activities in IMD 6-10 locations can apply to our crowdfunding option, Return to Play: Active Together, to seek support towards running costs.
  • Flexibility over start date - we ask that activity resumes within six weeks of national/local lockdown restrictions being lifted,
  • We've increased out total budget by £5 million to support more organisations.
  • We're now extending the programme and it will remain open up to 30 June.

Existing awardees

If you're in an organisation already in receipt of Return to Play: Small Grants funding, are located in IMD 1-5 - you can find your location here - and are now eligible for running cost support, please consider the following:

  • To repurpose part of your award, we're happy to discuss options to do so for part of your existing award - up to a maximum of £3,000 - to support running costs. You should contact us first before doing so, to agree these changes, by emailing us at quoting your URN in the subject line.
  • We can offer flexibility on start and end dates of our offer. We'll not expect delivery/activity to commence until national/local lockdown restrictions are lifted but we ask activity is resumed within six weeks of them 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 support, to support eligible running costs, we may consider an award increase in line with our new criteria. We'll ask you consider the above solutions first, before contacting us, but should this be needed please contact us to request an award increase. Please email your request to, quoting your URN and organisation name in the subject line. Please detail what support you're seeking and what period this covers - for example, £1,200 to support rent for three months from January 2021 (three months at £400 a month).
  • Please note, running cost support from this programme can't cover existing salaries or cover casual coaching (e.g. to cover loss of earning). Please consult other government support for these purposes.
  • For eligible organisations delivering a recognised sport or physical activity, in IMD 6-10 areas and in need of supports towards running costs, please consider applying to our Return to Play: Active Together crowdfunding programme.

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

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 - 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'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, Women’s National League and clubs and community organisations located in the 30% most deprived communities in the country. 

    The Foundation will make contact with eligible clubs either directly or through their extensive partnership network with details of how to apply from 8 March. For more information please visit the Football Foundation's website.

    Alternatively, for those clubs or organisations where there’s an established football offer they may be eligible to apply for Return to Play: Active Together – a crowdfunding initiative that can match fund, up to £10,000, successful Crowdfunder campaigns from a total pot of £1.5m.

    With expert advice and guidance to support you, this will help local clubs and organisations to run their own crowdfunding campaigns, fundraising for things such as a loss of income due to the crisis, or any other coronavirus-related needs.

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

    • a not-for-profit voluntary group or sports club
    • a not-for-profit community club or organisation
    • 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 won't cover 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

    • We can now consider requests of up to £3,000 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 1-5 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 1-5 areas only, please provide a breakdown to explain what this is covering - e.g. rent, electricity, insurance, over what time period and why this is needed.
    • Eligible organisations, delivering recognised sports and activities, not working within IMD 1-5 areas, or requiring more than £3,000 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
    • activities designed to support solely new participants, new projects and start-up costs
    • running costs and utility bills for projects located outside of our priority areas (IMD 1-5)
    • running costs and utility bills in excess of £3,000 from our priority areas (IMD 1-5). 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 1-5, 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
    • retrospective funding - we're unable to support costs for items/goods/services already purchased/ordered
    • costs that aren't a direct responsibility of the applicant to cover
    • football-only/football dominant projects*
    • this isn't an exhaustive list of everything we won't fund.

    *We already directly fund the Football Foundation, which funds a range of football projects. 

    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, Women’s National League and clubs and community organisations located in the 30% most deprived communities in the country. The Foundation will make contact with eligible clubs either directly or through their extensive partnership network with details of how to apply from 8 March. For more information please visit the Football Foundation's website.

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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.

    To date, we've received a high volume of applications that we've unfortunately been unable to support.

    Therefore, before you apply, please consider:

    Full details of all our criteria for this fund can be found above.

    If you’re not sure on anything, our funding helpline can be contacted on 03458 508 508, or by email on

    If you're confident you meet our criteria, you can apply to the fund here.

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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 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 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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How the fund is progressing

How many applications have we had 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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