Volunteers Week 2023: Reflections from our People & Leadership Lead

As Volunteers Week 2023 draws to a close, our People & Leadership Lead Holly Grimes reflects on 6 months in post, leading our work around volunteering, including the launch of our Volunteering research and the inaugural meeting of the new GM Moving Volunteering Community of Practice.

Overhead view of a group dance exercise class in a community centre


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By Holly Grimes, People & Leadership Lead - GreaterSport | 08 June 2023 | TAGS: Volunteering, Holly Grimes

This Volunteers Week, we’ve illuminated each of the eight recommendations from our Volunteering research in more detail and shared the reflections of some of our VCSE Advisory Group members, Sadia and Jeff. It also feels like an opportune time to take a step back and reflect on an exciting first 6 months in my role as People & Leadership Lead at GreaterSport, some of the wider the work we’ve been doing in this space, and to look ahead to where we go next to lead, support and connect the sport, physical activity and movement volunteering system in Greater Manchester.

At GreaterSport, many of our team volunteer their time in a number of different ways, aided by an employer-supported volunteer day each year. I’m excited to use my own volunteer day to support a youth leadership residential this coming Summer, and continue to impact young people’s lives through volunteering, appreciating the benefits volunteering in sport and physical activity has had for my own personal and professional development in recent years.

More broadly, we know that volunteering can have huge benefits for individuals, organisations, and wider society, with countless hours given each year across the city region to support others to move more, and we see these benefits showcased even more so during Volunteers Week.  Here at GreaterSport, we have been working to develop a better understanding of the current volunteering landscape in Greater Manchester, and what is needed to make giving time easy, meaningful and supported.

The Vision for Volunteering sets out an ambitious future for volunteering, and how this aligns to sport, physical activity and movement-based volunteering is something we have been thinking about throughout our recent work – what needs to change to make the future of volunteering in this space more accessible, meaningful, supported, and reflective of Greater Manchester? We know that whilst many people report positive experiences of volunteering in sport, physical activity and movement, there is still lots of work to be done to create a culture shift which transforms the volunteer experience, creating inclusive volunteering opportunities which support others to live more active lives.   

Active Lives Survey data (Nov 21-22) tells us that the number of adults 16+ who have volunteered at least once in the last 12 months is on the increase post-pandemic, rising 5.5% in Greater Manchester to 18.9% - but a decrease nonetheless of 1.8% from baseline levels (Nov 19-20). There also remain stubborn inequalities in terms of who volunteers - among those who volunteered at least once a week throughout the year, those from lower socio-economic groups (NS SEC 6-8) are less likely to volunteer, as are females, historically under-represented ethnic groups, and those with a disability or long-term health condition.  There is also a risk of burnout among frequent volunteers, with the same people giving more of their time, sometimes feeling undervalued and underappreciated. Through our work, we therefore know there is a need to support those volunteering in this space of more organised, formal volunteering in sport and physical activity, and to make these opportunities more inclusive and representative - be it coaches, club committee members, people providing transport or refreshments, or people acting as stewards and marshals at sporting activities or events.

Beyond the scope of Active Lives, a huge number of people also give their time supporting others to be active in more fluid, spontaneous and informal ways – motivated by a desire to improve their communities, help others, or support a social cause, and these people are equally as valuable, appreciated, and significant to achieving our shared ambitions around active lives for all. This is further evident in the fact that 39% of GM’s 17,000+ VCSE organisations say that sport, physical activity and movement is one of their top four priorities, yet whose volunteers may not view themselves as ‘sporty’, or even define themselves as volunteers in the first instance. With many of these organisations tackling inequalities, working collaboratively with the VCSE Sector to develop a systemic approach to volunteering in sport, physical activity and movement is vital to our work in this space.

In this context, working alongside 10GM we commissioned Manchester Metropolitan University and Bolton Council to undertake research to create a collective understanding of how we develop a systemic, coordinated approach to volunteering in sport, physical activity and movement. The formation of a VCSE Volunteering Advisory Group to co-create research recommendations has been crucial to ensuring the research was grounded in local knowledge and insight, alongside academic expertise. It’s been fantastic to witness, and contribute to, the collaboration that has taken place with the research team and advisory group working together as equal partners. Working along such a diverse network of organisations, all doing fantastic work, helped us ensure that the recommendations are rooted in the lived experiences of different groups, communities and places, and that they can more easily be translated into tangible actions that will make a real difference to the volunteer experience. With the development of these recommendations, we now have a clear vision for how we can begin to enhance volunteering in sport, physical activity and movement in GM. Each of the recommendations brings value to our future work to improve volunteering in sport, physical activity and movement.

Supporting this piece of research been a real highlight of my time at GreaterSport, and we’re excited to continue working with members of the VCSE Volunteering Advisory Group as this evolves into a sustainable Community of Practice centred around sport, physical activity and movement-based volunteering. This will allow us to not only continue to draw upon the knowledge and experiences of the Advisory Group members, but to widen this network so we can begin to grow and spread the work and implement the findings with a range of partners, and implement the research recommendations in a way that draws upon the knowledge, insight and lived experiences of people from different layers of the system. Our first Community of Practice was held during the last week of May, and after a period of working closely with partners on co-creating the recommendations, it was fantastic to have the opportunity to share these findings externally. We had around 25 organisations in attendance, all bringing their own successes and challenges, and a desire to make a difference to volunteering in physical activity, sport and movement. We discussed what is possible by bringing together such a breadth of organisations from across the system, what we can achieve by working together, and how we can support each other with next steps. These next steps will now be to take the energy and knowledge around each of the recommendations and translate this into action through the development of specific working groups around key themes, before meeting again as a Community of Practice on Thursday 28th September to share updates and progress.

More broadly, our current challenge is working with partners to translate these recommendations into action over the next 2 years and beyond, thinking about who isn’t currently in the conversation, and how we can work strategically to lead, support and connect partners to deliver this work and make a transformational change to volunteering in sport, physical activity and movement across Greater Manchester. Reflecting on the past 6 months, it’s been fantastic to connect with so many people who are passionate about volunteering, and I can’t wait to see where we can go next with this desire to make a difference. To get involved in the Community of Practice, or to learn more about our work around people and leadership, contact [email protected].


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