A recent StreetGames investigation into the Coronavirus crisis has shown the impact of the crisis of the lockdown on young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the organisations that support them. In this final article, the charity discusses the threat the sport for development sector faces in the current climate and the importance of ensuring community sports organisations continue to play a role in local communities.
Despite the recent relaxation around some lockdown rules, including the ability to exercise outside, uncertainty remains. For community sports organisations like those which make up the StreetGames network, the lockdown has forced a large part of their work to come to a standstill. Communal sport in collective settings has simply not been possible. Yet many of them have been quick to adapt, developing new ways to keep supporting the young people they work with – from online classes and one-to-one mentoring to food and kit deliveries. They are supporting vulnerable young people to observe social distancing guidelines, stay healthy and safe, and to maintain relationships with the positive role-models in their lives.
This innovation in the face of adversity demonstrates just why organisations like these are so important, but despite their swift response to this crisis there is no doubt that it has taken a toll, on both the projects themselves and the communities they serve.
Lockdown has created new pressures for these organisations. Some of them have lost out on vital funding as a result of no longer being allowed to deliver the programmes that funding had been earmarked for and, while many funders have shown flexibility in this regard, there are still projects up and down the country who have lost vital financial support as a result of the restrictions placed upon them.
Others have been forced to close their doors and furlough staff, and where these organisations have been unable to operate in other ways there are fears that a period of closure will result in reduced engagement and attendance in the short and medium term. In the most extreme circumstances, there may even be some projects who find themselves without the resources to open their doors again after such a prolonged closure. The StreetGames investigation, reinforced by the findings of other organisations such as a recent survey carried out by Sported, revealed that one in four groups said they weren’t sure they would still exist in six months’ time. But it is vital to the communities they work with, that they do exist.
When the immediate crisis is over, those doors will be opening out into a world facing even greater challenges than before. This is especially true of disadvantaged communities who are being hit hardest.
There is no doubt that for children in low income households the lockdown has been even more challenging. Limited access to the internet or a shortage of available devices within low income households leaves vulnerable children isolated and hard to engage, while being trapped in overcrowded housing, with limited private space and much reduced access to the normal support structures. Those children who may have found themselves left behind previously will emerge from lockdown even further behind their wealthier peers.
These organisations are better placed than anyone to begin the hard work of supporting these young people and their communities in the aftermath of Coronavirus, but they need support. In the months ahead they will need to work swiftly to regain a firm financial foothold in the shape of both grants and fundraising events. Some will also start from a reduced base in terms of participant attendance and retention as a result of the lengthy lockdown closure and reduced visibility.
Mark Lawrie, Acting CEO of StreetGames, said: “In left behind communities across the UK, community sports organisations like those within the StreetGames network are putting in the hard yards of supporting some of the most vulnerable and ‘hard to reach’ young people in the country. These are places where young people can improve their physical and mental health and create habits that offer them a different, better path.
“That support has never been more needed, yet its future has perhaps never looked so precarious. This crisis has given many organisations a financial knock at the very same time that it is exacerbating the problems of poverty, social isolation and physical wellbeing that they exist to remedy.
“It is so important that these local community organisations are supported to still be there in the years to come, doing their incredible work to support young people to live lives that are healthier, safer and more successful. StreetGames’ mission in the coming months is to continue supporting these organisations in every way possible.”
To find out more, visit streetgames.org.