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By GreaterSport | 02 June 2023 | TAGS: Volunteering

At GreaterSport, we recognise that there is a vast network of people across Greater Manchester who give their time to sport, physical activity and movement-based volunteering, and we want to better understand this landscape and what is needed to make this more easy, meaningful and supported. Our ambition is to transform the volunteer experience, encouraging active lives for all through more inclusive volunteering opportunities.

Our recently published research, conducted alongside colleagues from 10GM, Manchester Metropolitan University, and Bolton Council, worked collaboratively with the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector to create a collective understanding of how to develop a systemic approach to volunteering in physical activity, sport and movement across Greater Manchester. To achieve this objective, the research was conducted in collaboration with a VCSE Volunteering Advisory Group, who helped ground the research in knowledge of what the picture looks like on the ground in GM, across different sectors, communities, and places.

To celebrate Volunteers Week, we asked two members of our VCSE Volunteering Advisory Group, Jeff (Wigan Council) and Sadia (Awakening Minds), to share some reflections on their time with the group, what volunteering and taking part in sport, physical activity and movement means to them, and how they’d like to see the research recommendations implemented over the next two years and beyond:

How do you reflect on your time with the VCSE Volunteering Advisory group?  

Sadia: My time with the advisory group was wonderful. As a young person, I'm not usually in spaces where I can not only give my opinion through my lived experience and my peers, but actually being a part of the group on the same level as other professionals. I've been able to not only inform, but also to learn. This was a space of great diversity that allowed me to learn about issues that don't affect me, but affect those around me and to be able to have a healthy, accurate perspective on these issues. I've learned how to be an advocate, an ally and a visual, living, breathing representation for more than just myself.

Jeff: I’ve enjoyed being part of the group and I think in terms of steering the research and acting as a critical friend and co-contributor to the MMU research it has been good to be involved in that aspect of the project – interesting to hear MMU’s positive reflections on working in this way as well. It has personally been very insightful to see and hear about the diverse range of experiences, challenges and opportunities brought by the very diverse range of representatives at the group. I think at times it can be a case of seeing the same faces at various meetings, but to work with so many different and new people has been a positive and refreshing experience.

Why did you want to join? And do you think it has been successful?

Jeff: I joined largely by chance, following Richard Davis-Boreham mentioning it to me. I was keen to join because with my role changing professionally I was interested in keeping involved in sports volunteering and – with work’s blessing – this was an opportunity to be involved again in shaping delivery and influencing practice – more hands on – than my role had evolved into with my employer. It also came at a time when the Borough Sports Council in Wigan was coming to a close so it was timely to see how the potential need locally could be supported. I think the group has been successful to a point (probably the point which it needed to be) in terms of shaping and supporting the research and recommendations. We have perhaps not made the next step into translating talk into action but potentially that was always going to be the case given the purpose and composition of the group – the Community of Practice launch should hopefully make that next step.

What does volunteering within sport and physical activity mean to you? Why is it important?

Sadia: Sports and movement is such a core theme to me, as I have experience of being a sporty child and then having no sport and movement as a teen and young person. As a Muslim woman of Pakistani heritage, I had too many barriers to keep active. When I look back, they were barriers that could have been easily fixed. The uniform could have been altered, sessions could become girls-only, schools could hire more female sports teachers, I could have gone to sports and movement clubs outside of school, but these weren't communicated - if they existed at all. I know from my own experience that growing up without a safe, comfortable space for exercise, sports and movement, that I did suffer. And now I'm older, and I prioritise sports and movement and I see, feel and embody all the benefits. The benefits should never end with just me, when making these safe spaces is entirely within our means.

Jeff: I’ve been involved in formal volunteering in sport for over twenty years, on a personal level it’s created new and lasting friendships and given the pleasure of being part of a club / team (even if not involved in on-field matters). The more you get involved the more you realise how important such clubs and organisations are in the local community, and the sense of responsibility and privilege being a volunteer brings. I think two things beyond that importance to the community stand out as key things – (i) the sense that volunteering is in decline both in sport and more generally, and a need to understand how to reverse that trend or to evolve volunteering in sport to become more accessible and (ii) the sense from public sector particularly that volunteer organisations can pick up the slack created by cuts to core services, without understanding that the voluntary sector needs significant support if it is to do so.

Where would you like to see volunteering in GM go in the next 2 years, and then looking ahead to 5/10 years’ time?

Sadia: In the next two years, I want volunteering in GM to be easy to do. I want people to be able to give the time that they can easily, without reams of paperwork or without feeling obligated to commit to more than what they can realistically give without impeding on their health, their income and their own personal time for self-care. In the next 5 and 10 years, I envision a system GM-wide that ensures all volunteers are treated in the same way - the same opportunities, the same importance, the same respect. And this is truly an achievable feat if we put our energy in representing those who give their all for others.

Jeff: In the short term the recommendations from the research need to be implemented (or alternative approaches developed). In particular I would like to see some potential quick wins / big gains around for example engaging with employers and further education establishments to tap into the large pool of volunteer resource available there. We also need to establish some measures of success to understand what impact we are having through implementation of the strategy. In the longer term I would like to see the overall decline in volunteering reversed (or at least stabilised) and a volunteering pathway(s) which is accessible to all be established.

Thank you to Sadia and Jeff for sharing their reflections on being part of the VCSE Volunteering Advisory Group, and to the wider Advisory Group for their time, efforts and insights in helping us conduct this research. To find out more about the research and our work around volunteering, search GM Moving Volunteering.

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