Celebrating volunteers in sport and physical activity

It's the first week of June, it's Volunteers' Week!

01 June 2019 Volunteering News

Volunteers week logo

Our figures show that 6.2 million adults have volunteered at least twice in the last year to support sport and physical activity.

That’s 14 per cent of adults in England, and we want to say thank you.

June 1-7 marks Volunteers’ Week, a time for us to celebrate all the good that volunteers do for the sport and physical activity sector in our country.

Back in November 2017 we announced two funds to help change the face of volunteering in England, with £4.4 million of National Lottery funding being awarded.

We’re continuing to strive to ensure volunteers enjoy a positive experience, that volunteering opportunities are accessible to all our diverse population and that volunteers are valued for the work they do – and we've since made further investments to work towards this goal.

“One of the most powerful ways to demonstrate the impact of volunteering is simply to let volunteers tell their story,” said our head of volunteering, Kristen Stephenson.

“All of our work is focused on ensuring more people can experience the positive outcomes associated with sport and volunteering – improving confidence, improving mental wellbeing, building new friendships and ultimately happier communities.”

This week we'll be showcasing some of the amazing volunteers that work with projects we support.

Joy Richardson, AKA Stixx, officiating at a roller derby

Energise Me

Roller derby is a challenging game both in the arena and organisationally.

The Southampton City Rollers are underpinned by volunteers, many of whom found the opportunity thanks to Energise Me - the Hampshire Active Partnership funded annually by us.

Roller derby itself requires at least six non-skating officials (NSOs) who do the scorekeeping, penalty tracking and timing, and without these people it just couldn’t happen.

The activity also requires a minimum of three referees for the game to go ahead and there is currently a shortage of officials for the sport.

So it is volunteers like Joy Richardson and Rose Waters who keep the SC*R team on wheels and in business.

“I have been skating with Southampton City Rollers for four years, however on game day I have an off-skates role,” said Joy, also known as Stixx.

"It takes around 60 people to put on a game and only 30 of them are the teamsters - the remainder are referees, NSOs and other volunteers.

“NSOs perform many roles, such as tracking penalties, scorekeeping and timing the game. I love NSO’ing.

“I get to watch some awesome roller derby for free and from inside the track, which is the best view!

“I’ve travelled all across the country NSO’ing and even got to volunteer at the Roller Derby World Cup last year, volunteering at SC*R has given me so much.”

And for Rose, AKA Sherry Bomb, the joy she gets from the sport is simply from enabling those around her to enjoy their time on the track.

“I took up roller derby more than three years ago, not having skated since I was a toddler in Fisher Price skates!” she said.

“I am the head referee of SC*R and I have been officiating for a little more than two years now. I travel across the south and up to London to officiate for teams of all different types.

“I’m an official because I love the sport and want to give back to the team and community who mean so much to me.”

Picture: Striking Places Photography

Carys Dolloway plays football

Active Gloucestershire

Cerys Dolloway began her volunteering life while studying for a Level 3 extended diploma in sports coaching at Hartpury College, in Gloucestershire.

The Department for Education allocate around £400,000 to Sport England each year for our volunteer leaders and coaches programme.

Active Partnerships across the nation can apply for a part of this funding, just as Active Gloucestershire did, enabling Cerys to volunteer at events such as the Gloucestershire School Games, the Big Health Check Day, the Special Olympics and more.

Now 19, she has progressed her studies and is now at Hartpury University, studying for a degree in PE and school sport alongside playing for their women’s academy football team.

She continues to volunteer, though, and values the extra-curricular lessons it has taught her.

“I have a lot more confidence in communicating clearly to a wide variety of people, from primary and secondary school pupils, to parents and teachers,” she said.

“I’ve gained a lot of knowledge and understanding on how a range of different events are set up and organised and I’ve gained confidence through taking up different roles.

“These skills are transferable to other events and can help me a lot in the future within teaching and coaching roles.

“My experiences have also shown me the range of opportunities that are available in both the voluntary and sports development sectors.”

Cerys’ duties as a volunteer have included setting up equipment, presenting certificates, officiating and acting as a member of the School Games volunteer leadership forum.

All of this led to her being named School Games volunteer of the year at the Gloucestershire School Awards last year, and she would encourage anyone to follow in her footsteps.

“If someone’s interested in volunteering, I would say for them to be proactive, seek out opportunities and to have a positive attitude towards each event,” she added.

“I’ve gained a lot of experience and knowledge from volunteering, so I would definitely recommend making the most out of it.

“I also strongly believe that it helps develop your own personal skills, especially gaining more confidence. So even if you are a bit nervous, throw yourself in at the deep end!”

Val French, East Yorkshire Breeze Champion

Breeze cycling

A former PE teacher, Val French has led bike rides with hundreds of women since the HSBC UK Breeze programme launched in 2011.

The women-only initiative is funded, in part, thanks to our investment in British Cycling and Val has now made history by becoming the first Breeze Champion to lead 500 rides.

East Yorkshire born-and-bred, Val’s journey on two wheels began as a child, cycling around the farm she grew up on.

But it wasn’t until later in life that she truly caught the cycling bug having previously been a keen player of hockey, tennis and netball.

She has now ridden her bike from Lands’ End to John O’Groats, in Russia, from London to Paris on more than one occasion, and done numerous coast-to-coast rides in the UK.

But whether it’s five miles, 50, or 500, it’s the Breeze ambition of getting more women active that motivates her most.

“As a PE teacher I was always conscious of girls not being encouraged enough into activity and sport, so I was very passionate about girls and women in sport,” she said.

“The press and the media are just rubbish at promoting it. It was that, really, that motivated me.

“It’s been a life-changing experience for me. And seeing other women’s lives change for the better, is amazing.

“All the girls that have been coming out for a while, I’ll say to them that it’s them that have changed their own lives, not me.

“Some of them have weight problems – one of our pink ladies that is now doing a coast-to-coast, has lost five stone from cycling.

“There’s another one who has had mental health issues. And there was an absolute newbie last week who I did a 10-mile ride with, and she said it helped and is going to carry on.

“The retention level is brilliant. So where I’ve got to chase up more now is getting new people out, beginners.

“I’m doing about four or five rides a week now and am up above 530.

“I’ll only stop when I drop, as long as my legs still go round I’ll keep going!”

A marshal waves pompoms at a parkrun event


A chance trip to watch a triathlon 13 years ago has had a profound impact on Su Browning’s life.

At almost 27 stone, she had embarked on a journey with a personal trainer, who happened to be a triathlete.

Having asked if she could go and watch him race, she ended up volunteering on a water station at the event and has not looked back.

Now a regular at the Winchester parkrun, an organisation we invested £3 million in last December, Su has lost weight, made life-long friends and developed a well-earned reputation as the ‘pom-pom lady’ as sporting events in the area.

Every Saturday morning she can be seen in her high-vis vest, waving her pom-poms and encouraging runners around the 5km course.

But she does not limit her enthusiasm to marshalling at parkruns, though, with around 150 other races on her volunteering CV, she is now a familiar face to athletes in Hampshire.

“I love encouraging and making athletes smile,” said the 59-year-old. “In return you get a great response. High-fives, even sweaty hugs!

“Sport events create a really good community and there's a part to play for everyone.

“I have made loads of lifelong friends. I'm easily recognisable and get shout outs from people who've seen the pompoms in action.

“I have found myself watching the sunrise over the Beaulieu River at 5am marshalling a triathlon.

Stood in snow and sunshine at parkrun and lurk on corners with the pompoms at marathons and fun runs.

“I've done triathlons and have had the best marshals to help me. I try to pick up tips from athletes and other marshals as to what are good ways to encourage.

“There is always a warm welcome for marshals at all races and events you don't have to be sporty and you'll be encouraged as much as you encourage.

“Volunteering at these events has helped me to get out.

“Just before I started marshalling I was 27st and was down for a life of unhealthiness.

“Then I got involved with athletes through my personal trainer and I’m now more aware of health, of activity and I get quite a lot of exercise doing my volunteering.”

Women participate in an exercise class in a sport hall

She's Ready

“It’s like chocolate for the soul.”

The words of South Essex volunteer Cath as she reflects on what She’s Ready activity sessions do for the women in her community.

Funded by Sport England and run in conjunction with Active Essex and Active Life, She’s Ready is a women-only movement aiming to get their own community more active.

The programme allows people to volunteer, connect with likeminded people, train as an instructor and go on to lead your own sessions, whether they be Zumba or boxercise.

“I’ve been a She’s Ready volunteer since the beginning, but I got involved in the campaign because I used to be literally, twice the woman I am now,” Cath added.

“I got involved in Active Women and that resulted in an eventual 12st weight loss and I felt I wanted to give something back.

“Whenever I leave here, or whenever I leave an event, I’m so uplifted by the whole thing.”

And she is not alone.

Suzi began as a volunteer, has progressed to being a tutor and is now getting paid after being given the opportunity to train as an instructor.

“I used to go to a hula-hooping class and just loved it and they said would you like to be an instructor?” She said.

“Now I get paid for doing something that I absolutely love and volunteering for She’s Ready.

“It’s given me a lot more confidence, in meeting people. That’s the main thing, it’s given me a whole new lease of life.”

The programme doesn’t just provide the opportunity to progress professionally, though, but it also shows the impact that activity can make on your physical and mental wellbeing.

“I used to suffer from anxiety quite a bit, so when I thought about doing the classes and volunteering I wasn’t too sure whether to do it or not,” said volunteer Michelle.

“I started going to Zumba and it felt like a breath of fresh air afterwards. It has definitely helped me to get more fit and I’m now going to be doing some training next year to maybe be one of the tutors.

“I’ve never done anything like that before, so I’m really excited about it.”

Find out more

If you want to know more about volunteering in England then we recently published a report into it, conducted by the Sports Industry Research Centre – a summary of which can be found here – or you can check out our volunteer explainer.

How to start volunteering

Or if you want to volunteer yourself then you can Join In using the free Volunteer Opportunity Finder.

While Be Inspired also has information about how you can get involved and help out across a variety of sports.