When I joined London Sport 6 months ago, I was gifted with 5 ‘volunteer days’, what a treat. 5 opportunities to give back to sport and physical activity in London. This is the first organisation I have worked for, in the sector, that has made a commitment to volunteering and encourages its staff to, wait for it, actually use them.
Not only does this allow us to give something back to our capital, but it helps to remind us of why we do what we do. Sometimes, on my fifth meeting of the day, its hard to remember the end goal, what we are trying to change here. So, staying connected, keeping one foot on the pitch, is incredibly important to me. I started my career in sports development, working in a great team at the London Borough of Richmond, where I now call home. I can safely say, I use the skills and experience I learnt there, every, single, day. This knowledge gives me the confidence to challenge, influence and make the right decisions, and my volunteer days offer the perfect platform to keep relevant and appreciate what’s happening at a grassroots level.
So, to practice what I preach, last week I used my first volunteer day. I went back to where my career all started and helped at the ‘Richmond Girls Football Festival’, cleverly scheduled to fall in ‘Girls Football Week’. The festival took place on Wednesday, so a mid-week day out of the office in the fresh air. Well, fresh it was, checking the weather whilst getting ready for the 8.15am meet I knew it was going to be a cold one! 2 pairs of socks and 4 layers later I headed across to NPL Sports Ground in Teddington (National Physical Laboratory).
Richmond Sports Development run several primary school festivals (football, rugby, netball and swimming) and have done for the last 15 or so years. The pupils in this borough are incredibly lucky to have this type of provision, I only wish I had the same growing up. This festival was held in partnership with Brentford Football Club, who not only provide the referees but crucially information about how girls can continue playing outside of school. It’s the perfect set up.
Back in 2007 we would have over 300 girls taking part in this festival and last week the number was 330, quite incredible. The numbers are consistently strong, but I noticed the standard of play has quite simply skyrocketed. What a sight, so many girls playing, and enjoying good quality football. It was a joy to watch and positively I know there are so many more opportunities for these girls to continue playing, they have more role models than ever before and there is a shift in people’s attitudes towards female participation in this sport. Girls football is certainly not an anomaly in this borough.
‘A smooth operation from start to finish’
Despite being in total awe, I needed to get moving (partly to keep warm) and do some volunteering. After some quick hello’s it was like being part of the team again, and I helped where needed from setting up the marquee, collecting score cards, fielding enquiries and checking the complex maths between group and knockout stages. Now, let me tell you, the Richmond festivals are slick. A smooth operation from start to finish. They have been designed to ensure the experience is not only great for the players but also the referees, teachers, coaches and parents. This feat of planning, allowed me some time in the day to catch up with old colleagues and contacts, which was really useful. They told me about the projects they are working on, challenges they face and opportunities they seek, as well as more general thoughts on the future of our sector. All of which I will take back to my day to day.
Before I knew it, 4pm had rolled around. The cup and plate finals had been played, trophies awarded and the marquee was back in its bag. I walked home, with my feet cold to the bone, but cheesy as it sounds, with a big smile on my face. I felt totally inspired and it really did reinforce why I do what I do. I have signed up to help and the Richmond swimming galas in March, a decidedly warmer event. But my message to all: get out in the field, literally, to learn, be inspired and be better at what you do.