So, how are sports clubs faring? Is the economic climate strangling sport at birth? Are sports clubs still relevant? Did London 2012 give them a boost?
The Sport and Recreation Alliance (SRA) provides insight into all of these questions by carrying out an in-depth survey of sports clubs every two years.
Our latest report was launched in October and it gives some intriguing insight into how sports clubs have been faring in the run-up to, during and post London 2012. Nearly 3,000 community clubs from more than 100 sports took part in the survey, and were weighted to fairly represent the total of 150,000 clubs in the UK. This gives an unrivalled insight into the health of Britain’s grassroots sports clubs.
The general picture
On almost all of our measures sports clubs are doing better than they were two years ago. This reverses a downward trend which we’ve seen since 2008 – the beginning of the recession.
The average sports club now has 82 adult participating members – a 20.6 per cent increase since 2011. Club income has risen for three years in a row and there has been an encouraging 20 per cent increase in the number of club volunteers across the UK.
So is it all rosy for clubs? Not quite. Junior membership levels are not quite reflecting the Olympic Games’ tagline of “inspire a generation” yet. The average club has 90 youngsters – some way under the highest recorded levels in 2008 when membership levels stood at 108.
Finances, energy and facility costs as well as disability sport provision also remain issues for many clubs.
Is the economy strangling clubs?
Things could actually be looking up. Club income is now creeping up to the levels of pre-credit crunch 2008 after the drastic dip of the past few years. There are also more clubs in surplus or breaking even than two years ago, with some 76 per cent of clubs now falling into this category.
It’s remarkable – given the fact that the economic outlook remains challenging – that clubs are doing so well financially. This is in no small part down to the careful financial management undertaken by club committees. Four out of five clubs (84 per cent) have taken at least one measure in the past 12 months to increase their income or decrease expenditure.
The focus has also been on growing income rather than decreasing costs, showing a real determination amongst local clubs to continue high quality provision for their communities.
The top five measures to increase income have been increasing club fundraising efforts (49 per cent), applying for additional funding (45 per cent), actively recruiting more members (44 per cent), holding more social events (40 per cent) and increasing membership fees (34 per cent). This seems prudent and admirable considering economic pressures and the fact that both facility owning and non-facility owning clubs are facing rising costs.
The effect of rising energy costs
For facility-owning clubs the reality of rising energy costs has hit home, with clubs now spending 38 per cent more on water rates, 19 per cent more on gas and 10 per cent more on electricity than in 2011. This is likely to increase in the future and we’d urge clubs to take up the free energy health check from SRA partner Utility Aid to make sure that they are paying the right rates and are made aware of any cost-effective alternatives.
Non-facility-owning clubs (63 per cent of clubs) which hire, also say that their costs have increased over the past two years, with 21 per cent saying they have increased significantly. Clubs remain worried. Especially those clubs which hire or lease a facility from their local authority – and rightly so.
Local authority cuts
Local authorities are at the forefront of central government cuts with some seeing their budgets shrink by more than 40 per cent. When faced with a budget which can’t even cover the mandatory requirements local authorities must provide, many have and will be faced with the unpalatable decision – cut back on sport and leisure provision or charge more. More than one third of all clubs (38 per cent) hire or lease a facility from their local authority and any negative changes here will be keenly felt.
Much of the fallout from these cutbacks will be felt in the next few years, which could be potentially catastrophic for many clubs. The Alliance will be keeping a close eye on the situation and will ensure that we press the case for clubs in this difficult time.
Sports clubs are still relevant in their communities
Both in schools and the wider community, clubs are building long term links which bring benefits to both parties. More than half of the UK’s sports clubs (58 per cent) are now working with local schools and of those three in four clubs are linked to multiple schools. What’s more, nearly nine in ten school links are reported as being successful. We know that childhood membership of a sports club increases the likelihood of being active as an adult and successful partnership work between clubs and schools is helping to solidify that pathway to being active for life.
Clubs as the social fabric
It’s not just schools that clubs are building links with. Sport and recreation boosts not just physical and mental health but also provides opportunities to engage young people at risk of succumbing to antisocial behaviour, helps create social cohesion and can improve educational attainment.
Clubs know this and more than half (54 per cent) are proactively running programmes which engage the community. What’s all the more remarkable is that 60 per cent of these projects are entirely self-funded. And as clubs are engaging the community, so the community wants to engage with clubs. People are wanting to get involved and clubs have seen a 20 per cent increase in the number of volunteers – with the average club now having 24 in total.
Sport already has more volunteers than any other sector – 22 per cent of all volunteers in England – but why are more people now keen to get involved? One of the main worries for clubs over the past few years has been recruiting and retaining volunteers.
The Games Makers were the success story of the London Games and have helped to put volunteering back on the agenda. Research indicates that a third of the British public wished they had volunteered to help out at the Games. A similar number also said the Games Makers positively changed the way they viewed volunteering.
From this, schemes like Join In and Give More have sprung up to try and capture that enthusiasm and harness it into a tangible long-term volunteering legacy. It’s too early to truly say whether this increase in volunteering is a sustainable long-term trend, but clubs should use this information to facilitate greater awareness of the opportunities available for people to volunteer locally. It is crucial that they really take advantage of the groundswell of support generated during 2012.
Sports clubs make us happier, healthier and wealthier. If the government wanted to build a network of 150,000 community centres which gave as much to the country in crucial policy areas like health, education and crime prevention as sports clubs currently do, the costs would be stratospheric.
So what can the government do to show its support for the sector? The Sports Club Survey 2013 asked the nation’s clubs just that and five clear topics emerged.
Clubs want the government to make it easier to apply for funding that is available to them. Many of those applying for grants are volunteers sifting through layers of bureaucracy on top of a mound of other commitments. Simplify the processes involved and allow the people who need it most to have access to the available resources.
Clubs also want the government to encourage more people to be more involved with sport and recreation. The experience is that too often lip-service has been paid – by both sides of the political divide – and joined up, sustainable and effective policy decisions have been thin on the ground.
This must change. We cannot allow party politics to get in the way and a joined-up, cohesive, cross-party approach must be enforced for long-term improvements.
Clubs also want the government to make it more affordable to build or improve a facility, or to make existing facilities more affordable to hire. The Community Asset Transfer scheme should be encouraged and promoted more widely to clubs, allowing them to transform land and buildings into vibrant sport and recreation spaces. Local authorities must also hold firm on rising prices of hire facilities.
Finally, clubs want action taken to reduce the running costs of clubs, such as local rates and utility bills. The Community Amateur Sports Club (CASC) scheme was recently revised by the government (for more on the new CASC, see John Goodbody’s comments on p.6) and we have long been advocates of these changes so that clubs can access vastly reduced rates. We would urge clubs to look out for this in the coming months and see if your club is eligible.
The Sports Club Survey 2013 results are broadly positive and reflect much of the hard work that’s been going in to clubs, national governing bodies and the wider sector in the past two years. It’s a great start, but there’s much that remains to be done.
SRA’s Sports Club Survey looked at a total of 3,000 sports clubs across more than 100 different sports in the UK. To download the full report as a PDF file, visit http://lei.sr?a=h2k6m