This week we celebrate Volunteers’ Week 2023 (1-7 July), showcasing the important role of volunteering as the driving force of communities across the UK, and more specifically the vital role that it plays in supporting community sport.
There are millions of people that work in the sport and physical activity sector. Within that, volunteers play a crucial role, as without them, most activity simply wouldn’t happen – particularly at the grassroots level. It cannot be overstated how important volunteers are across all levels, from keeping small community sessions running for adults and children, to supporting major sporting events at the elite level.
The profile of volunteers has rightly been raised in light of recent challenges such as the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis, and Volunteers’ Week 2023 is about recognising all of those who have continued delivering vital work.
We’re very proud that this year’s London Sport Awards 2023 highlighted some of the fantastic stories of how volunteers had made a difference in London. The 2023 Volunteer of the Year Award went to Ziana Butt BEM who is a rising star of netball and the first person of Pakistani heritage to represent England in netball. As an England Netball Young Volunteer and Youth Sport Trust Forum representative, Ziana has worked tirelessly to make the sport more inclusive and challenge stereotypes surrounding diversity in sport. Our Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Michelle Weltman, Head of Disability at London Marathon Events and chair of London Disability Swim Club, for her more than 30 years of work and volunteering in disability sport.
Reflecting on this further, London Sport also wanted to spotlight some of its very own staff who give up their time to serve their communities:
Alison Speechly, Community Sports Manager, London Sport:
As anyone who has been involved in community sport knows, volunteers are the engine that keeps everything and everyone moving. From inception through to delivery and evaluation, volunteers play an integral role in ensuring local communities can access and enjoy sport, whether as participants or spectators.
My personal volunteer journey started as a Games Maker in London for the 2012 Paralympic Games. I volunteered in the VIP Lounge at the Basketball Arena and was responsible for ensuring guests had everything they needed to enjoy their experience. I had so much fun with my fellow volunteers and was inspired by the skill of the athletes playing wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby.
That experience in 2012 was the beginning of a volunteering adventure that resulted in me volunteering as a football coach in my local community for several years and volunteering at men’s football tournaments, including UEFA Euro 2020. Volunteering has also led to paid opportunities for me to train and lead teams of volunteers at major sporting events, such as the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 – where I presented to nearly 300 volunteers at Wembley Stadium – and NFL gamedays at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
My advice for anyone thinking about volunteering is to do it! There is so much to be gained from volunteering, including increased self-esteem, making new friends, acquiring new skills, and even job opportunities.
And to everyone who has already volunteered, thank you! Community sport would not exist without you.
In addition to the wider positive change that it seeks to inspire, volunteers are also able to take something from this experience too. Research shows that volunteering can help improve physical and mental health, boosts wellbeing and confidence, helps people adopt healthy lifestyles whilst also helping people gain valuable new skills and experiences.
Josh Denington Research & Commercial Product Manager, London Sport:
I have been volunteering with Grow since the start of 2023. GROW works with schools and communities delivering bespoke programmes in sustainable food growing and outdoor learning and I have been supporting them on their farm based at Totteridge Academy in North London.
The farm is very much reliant on a large team of committed volunteers throughout the year and it’s a hugely varied, rewarding, healthy, and active role that we take up. Example tasks include seed sowing, soil mixing, prepping beds, planting out, and picking fruit, veg, and flowers when the time is right. Less glamorous, but there is always an infinite amount of weeding to be done, which might be one of the most physically demanding jobs too.
Importantly, we eat incredibly well whilst on the farm, fuelling our bodies (often with produce from the farm itself) to keep us going throughout the day. The winter months can be tough but the camaraderie between the hugely diverse team of staff and volunteers, all with their own personal reasons for being involved is what keeps us coming back.
We hope that this has inspired you to get involved in volunteering! For more information on how to get started, see Volunteers’ Week 2023: Volunteers’ Week – Volunteers’ Week is a chance to say thank you for the fantastic contribution volunteers make. (volunteersweek.org)