Sector must better promote the benefits of volunteering to tackle gender and socio-economic gap

2017 Active Lives results put emphasis on sector to make the benefits of volunteering in sport and recreation clear to women and people from a lower socio-economic background.

The 2017 Active Lives survey has confirmed a big gender gap in volunteering in sport with 1.3 million more men volunteering at least twice in the last year compared to women. This means that women are less likely to be aware of and experience the benefits of being a volunteer in sport.

The relationship between volunteers and participants is crucial. We know that sport volunteers help get the nation active (Hidden Diamond research 2014) and that one volunteer creates the capacity for over eight individuals to get active at the grassroots level, including the volunteer potentially becoming more active themselves. Making our volunteer workforce more representative of our society, will help us to reach the 11.5 million people who are currently inactive and engage underrepresented groups such as women and girls and people with a disability.

To solve this imbalance, we must grow the understanding at a grassroots level about the benefits to individuals from volunteering in sport and make sure that volunteering opportunities are attractive to women. Through our Join In work we continue to promote the benefits of volunteering with the aim of making it easier for organisations to find volunteers and for individuals to find volunteering opportunities.

The Making Time research (2016) revealed that people from lower socio-economic backgrounds have the most to gain from volunteering in sport and our strategy sets out how we are working to grow the representation and accessibility of volunteering in sport.  However, the 2017 Active Lives survey reveals that people from lower socio-economic backgrounds make up just 10% of volunteers in sport.

Active Lives presents us with an opportunity to act on fresh insight and create change so that we can engage more people in volunteering in sport. It also gives us fresh insight into the groups that are underrepresented in participation.

Gender is not the only imbalance in participating in sport and recreation, as disabled people are still more likely to be inactive than those who do not have a disability. 21% of our population have a disability and the fact disabled people continue to be significantly underrepresented in terms of physical activity means there is much more we, as a sector, need to do.

Emma Boggis, CEO of the Sport and Recreation Alliance commented: "Encouraging inactive people to be active is challenging and so called ‘hard to reach’ groups are called that for a reason. We shouldn’t underestimate the time and resource it will take. 

"It is too early to draw comparisons from the latest Active Lives data, so we don’t know if the step change in participation that the Government sport strategy set as its aim, underpinned by Sport England’s new funding approach, will be delivered.

"What we do know is that our members, which includes NGBs, organisations using sport to deliver social purpose and regional and representative organisations, are all continuing to develop their understanding of the people they work with. They are working hard to adapt, so that they can get more people to take part in their activities and to demonstrate the wider social impact they are having on local communities across the country. We have a common goal of increased activity.

"Through our Join In work we know that volunteering in sport and recreation is an essential way to get the nation active. The addition of volunteering data to the Active Lives Survey will mean that we can track progress in our aim of ensuring sport volunteering is growing and is more representative." 

Sport and recreation can play a major role in tackling some of our nation’s most pressing issues, including obesity, social exclusion and physical and mental health problems. At the Alliance we will continue to make the case for investment in sport and recreation - from all parts of government - to deliver on these important public policy goals.