A charity sports club in Oldham has found ways to reach traditionally inactive audiences using newly-awarded funding and a tenacious approach to maintaining community engagement throughout the Covid crisis.
Providing varied activities for local people
Oldham Greenhill Community Sports Club is a volunteer-led project, which encourages people in the local community to come together and try new things, including physical activities. The club has its own football pitches, community rooms, a children’s play area and a café, and offers a wide variety of activities, from learning English and first aid to cooking, sewing and Zumba.
Abid Hussain is one of the charity’s directors, and left his full-time job two years ago to run Oldham Greenhill Community Sports Club. ‘It was a big step to leave my previous role, but I care deeply about the club and knew it needed full commitment to deliver its potential,’ says Abid. ‘We only have two paid employees – the rest of our team are volunteers – and we rely heavily on funding, working with external partners to get our projects moving.’
‘The club is primarily attended by people from BAME communities, who live in the immediate locality,’ Abid explains. ‘There’s a full mix of ages, and our timings and events aim to accommodate this. For example, we hold morning activities, school programmes, and provide children’s play areas.’
‘We focus on trying to reach those who may be traditionally less physically active or less likely to engage socially,’ continues Abid. ‘We provide educational classes and training workshops for adults, offer volunteering opportunities, and hold community events and trips. For women in the local community, we deliver female-only sports and fitness programmes, as well as coffee, mindfulness and support sessions. It really is about helping people to better their health and opportunities in a safe, supportive environment.’
Creating community connections during the Covid crisis
The club was still relatively new when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, forcing them to quickly change their approach and their offering. ‘We couldn’t run our usual projects, but the local community still needed our support,’ explains Abid. ‘We worked closely with St. Mary’s and Alexandra Ward councillors and applied for lottery funding to send emergency packs out to our club members. These were mainly food drop-offs for our local member families.’
The community need was high, but resources were low, so Abid, the volunteers and even councillors delivered the food parcels. Yet it proved a valuable way for Oldham Greenhill Community Sport Club to identify those people who needed more help. ‘We decided to launch a befriending and support service to better connect with people struggling during the crisis,’ Abid says. ‘We were there on families’ doorsteps, though naturally from a safe distance, talking to them at the height of the pandemic. Not only were they delighted to receive their shopping, it was a chance for us to engage and keep in contact with local people throughout such a difficult time and find out more about their circumstances, needs and how we could help them.’
Abid and his team also recognised the food parcel drop offs as an opportunity to further connect with and engage local families. ‘Of course, at the time face-to-face activities at the club were not possible, so we had to adapt to the online world, such as Zoom interactions,’ Abid explains. ‘We wanted to encourage activities everyone could engage in, such as family quizzes with prizes. We also delivered board games alongside food parcels to help families stay connected through shared activities.’
Using funding to support inactive audiences
Oldham Greenhill Community Sports Club has recently been awarded funding through the Tackling Inequalities Funding (TiF) programme. ‘For us, the TiF has two main parts,’ Abid explains. ‘Firstly, we’re encouraging those from Roma communities to join us and play football on Friday nights. We know this group are often a harder-to-reach audience, so we wanted to give them the opportunity to be active by booking a pitch at a discount and coming to play a game. The hope is that they’ll continue to engage with our facilities after our initial introduction.’
The TiF funding is also targeting girls around the ages of 14 and 15 to become more active. ‘For this group, we’re really focussing the funding on providing a physical activity, with less focus on its nature,’ says Abid. ‘We’re looking at activities the girls may not be as familiar with, such as multi-sports and dodgeball, to grow new active interests and get as many of this target group involved as possible.’
‘It’s very early days as we’ve only recently been awarded the funding,’ adds Abid. ‘Yet we have a lot of ideas for the future, including toddler groups and Sport England girls’ camps funding. It’s all about targeting and support those traditionally more inactive or hard-to-reach audiences and bringing them to the Oldham Greenhill Community Sports Club door. Once here, they realise they can get involved in a wide range of activities, and can hire the facilities as a group and play together in a safe space.’
Continuing to engage Oldham’s residents
‘We know how much children and young people have missed out on during the pandemic, so we ran a holiday programme over the 2020/21 Christmas break,’ says Abid. ‘We provided families with Christmas lunches on Fridays, and every day throughout the week for children. It was all about getting kids back into the club and feeling positive and engaged, supported with toys from Mission Christmas and food from the foodbank. I even dressed up as Santa!’
In October half-term week alone, over a thousand people came through the doors of Oldham Greenhill Community Sports Club. ‘It’s this engagement that matters, so we can keep the facilities running,’ concludes Abid. ‘We can do so much more and reach more people, and our community efforts and awarded funding are starting to make a huge difference to the lives of local people.’
To find out more about Oldham Greenhill Community Sports Club and how you can get involved, visit https://www.facebook.com/oldhamgreenhillcommunitysportsrecreationalclub/
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