Inquiry into support for community sport – Charlie’s original written evidence

In July 2012 the Health and Sport Committee launched its Inquiry into Support for Community Sport. The Inquiry follows an Inquiry into Pathways into Sport undertaken by the Committee in 2009.I welcome the opportunity to submit my own evidence on an area of interest I have been both deeply involved and politically active for much of my life.

I did give both written and oral evidence to the Committee’s Inquiry into the Pathways of Sport Inquiry. This evidence, and also an article “Building Social Capacity” that I wrote on Community Sports Hubs for the Holyrood Journal (4 October 2010).  Much of this is relevant to this current inquiry.

Definitions and Background – for clarification

Community Sport

In my evidence, I am describing largely competitive sport in the community. I believe that Sport is an aspect of Physical Activity, but is defined and shaped by the rules and cultures of each sport. There will be many reasons for participation in sport, being active being only one possibility.

Community Sport, can be where most participants learn and practice and compete or perform their sport.

Community Recreation and aspect of Physical Activity – usually non-competitive (e.g. Aerobics, most Dance, hill walking, recreational swimming)

I recommend that the Committee consider using the Definitions laid out in Perth and Kinross Council’s excellent Framework for Sport document  (page 9) during this Inquiry.


Are major players in sport in Scotland? But we should acknowledge that Schools will/can be involved with

  1. Formal Physical Education  (NB. This became the main focus of the earlier inquiry by the Health and Sport Committee).
  2. Schools may/may not support Informal Sport as an Extracurricular activity – normally voluntary for pupils and teachers/coaches. Despite my own expressed concerns, the Scottish Executive’s PE Review did not include School Sport.
  3. I would recommend that this area requires Review – but that this would be more appropriately be considered with other extracurricular activities (including music) by the Education Committee
  4. Sports Facilities – so many are located in schools.

I suggest that that this should form a major part of the Inquiry. Whilst I welcome the current sportscotland review of school PE and sports facilities – I am not clear that this Review will demonstrate the difficulties many of the PFI/PPP contracts are causing for community sport. The costs and other arrangements can often prohibit use by community groups.

Other issues include – the design of the facilities (including spaces for competition and performance; spaces for club meetings and papers).

Measuring Participation Levels

It is disappointing that Scotland relies almost entirely only on the Household Survey for its sports participation figures.

In addition, currently information gathered by sportscotland on participation within the Active Schools programmes, will describe sessions attended. This obviously then makes it difficult to determine the actual numbers involved in any one school and for how often.

I have suggested directly to the Scottish Government in 2011 that Scotland considers joining the Sports Participation “MEASURE” – with membership drawn from around six smaller European countries. By exchanging information with other countries, fresh experience from other countries can be  gained.


It is often difficult to determine the monies spent in community sport, either by individual participants or by local authorities. However, it is important to develop models that can describe the costs of participation. Not least, as often community sports participants can be targeted to increase income to facility providers.

The truth is that the current lack of hard information about either participation or funding for community sport does not help.

Currently it is very significant to me that the increased public funding for “performance sport” and sustained funding for “pay and play sport or physical recreation”, dramatically outweighs that spent on “community sport”. The lack of public funding for community sport, results in participation often being defines by the wealth of participants.

Inquiry Questions

I now attempt to briefly respond to the questions raised (clearly I am hoping the evidence submitted to the 2008 Inquiry, and my article on Community Sports Hubs will also be considered.

What is being done to support volunteers in community sport?

Variable provision of both a) Generic Development courses  (viz. Running Sport – offered through local authorities and supported by sportscotland and b) Sports Specific courses – invariably offered through sports governing bodies.

NB. There is an increase in commercial sports classes for pre and primary school aged children in a range of activities. Not clear whether these classes are available in geographic areas of deprivation. Often not clear how these classes connect to sports clubs.

What are the barriers facing volunteers?

Time; Cost of qualifications; weak sports infrastructures; lack of recognition; limited social programme; parents whose children ‘drop out”

What examples are there of good practice to encourage and maintain volunteers in community sport?

Some of the successful sports clubs in Scotland can demonstrate democratic club structures, social events, awards ceremonies, coach education and technical officials training. My own swimming club Warrender is an amazing example of this – about to celebrate its 125 anniversary – membership of around 400, offering a progressive range of swimming squads, but also water polo, and masters swimming.

Some local authorities offer centralised volunteer programmes. The complexity is to join up these with day-to-day club operations.

How can the contribution of local sports clubs be quantified for (a) of the preventative health agenda and (b) communities?

  • Programmes of actual practice of sport clearly do support the recommended aspirations for increasing levels of physical activity (physical activity agenda). Associated health messages impinging on learning about healthy lifestyles (nutrition et al)

– Numbers involved through life age stages. The feelings of belonging to “ extended families (clubs)” and local communities cannot be underestimated, not least when there is widespread concern about family break up et al. Special mention about this potential for older people (wellbeing agenda);

  •  Both through offering exciting programmes, and by specifically offering opportunities at night, weekends and in the holidays (anti crime agenda)
  • “Sweating assets ‘ – making maximum use of expensive sports facilities in schools -– 24/7 (facilities strategies)

What role does, or should community sports hubs play in encouraging sport your local communities?

  •  See Charlie’s article in the Holyrood Journal (4 October 2010)

It is VERY important to recognise the basic unit of the sports club. In my view Community chubs will only work well when there are good community clubs participating.

We need to recognise also that several sports will find it very difficult to be part of a community hub – as the facilities required for the sport may normally exist on their own. Consequently the issue is one of well managed and structured community clubs, alongside the potential for these clubs to self- manage the facilities that they use “out of hours”.

Local authorities should be encouraged to have detailed sports facilities strategies – which encompass on the one hand – all the aspects of Physical Activity and Sport – and this must include the school estates.

Given reducing public expenditure, what examples of innovative joint working between clubs and public bodies exist to make the most out of funding?

Much more imagination to bring about the almost universal community use of school facilitates.  This may require:

In quite a number of local authorities – buying out some aspects of PFI/PPP contracts that can prevent wider usage.

The contracts need to detail the “out of school hours” usage by the community. Ideally these contracts could include elements of self -management of facilities by accredited groups.

There may be possibilities for local authority planners to designate some space for commercial sports operations – from young children’s classes and aspects of physical activity.

Consideration by local authorities to set up an organisation that manage education sports facilities “out of hours” – rather than extend the current practice of these facilities being managed by head teachers.

Practical examples: –

Community club development in West Lothian – particularly football. This should demonstrate a considerable increase in participation, and community self management of facilities;

PPP/PFI contracts in West Lothian and Perth and Kinross Councils

What are the three most important issues regarding sporting facilities at a local level?

  1.  The need for detailed local facilities strategies. Such strategies should take account of training, practice, and local competition facilities
  2. The cost of usage  – could there be an incentive in reducing costs charged for accredited community clubs, for particular age groups? Where as commercial operations could/should be charged commercial prices?

  3. Detailed reviews of local sports budgets, and indeed national spending on sport. Is the support for community sport “out of synch” with performance sport and with physical recreation?

By way of conclusion

I finish by attempting to demonstrate my submission by describing swimming and its various forms of participation. Babies may have the opportunity to go the pool with mum and learn about each other and the water through play. Usually primary school children try to learn to swim at an early age (at least some of the applied swimming skills) as part of their physical education at school. It is hoped that through the secondary school PE programmes children will learn more about the various swimming disciplines such as diving, water polo, simple swimming races and importantly how they might use swimming as one of the ideal ways to keep themselves fit. On the other hand some young people recognise at some stage that they enjoy swimming and join a club. The best swimming clubs will offer progressive opportunities to improve swimming skills and fitness, and facilitate appropriate performance and competitive opportunities. As with all good clubs they need to  be democratically run, with transparent club procedures for coaching and childcare. The very best clubs will also have a good record for a social programme for members – young and old. . It is sad to say, but it is the fact that these clubs – school based or community based are not recognised and supported that results in such a limited sporting culture in Scotland.

A very simple look across the North Sea we can observe that most northern European countries support and nurture community clubs of all kinds, with club membership often exceeding 40% of the population.  Ironically Scotland is not at the races, in community sport and  yet now we are investing more than just about any other country in the world in elite sport.

Further reading:

The Health and Sport Committee website can be found here:

One comment

  1. Bob Waddell · · Reply

    Only came across this recently. Your argument is well structured but I fear will not lead to the kind of change you seek. Like other aspects of community/social life, community sports clubs need nurtured at the expense of commercial sports provision. The analogy I would use is the NHS which “subsidises” private medical care through the latter’s use of NHS trained staff, access to facilities etc. People should have the right to choose private medical care but public resources should not used to underpin it.
    Commercial sports provision should stand on its own financially. Current public investment in sport should be focussed entirely on building community capacity in developing sport at all levels. For every £1 of public money invested the return would be 10 fold. It will take time to develop both the capacity and the mindset but it will reap dividends. The first thing that needs to happen is that PPI should be phased out. If this government were to embrace this I might even vote yes in the referendum!!!

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