Sport and Social Action: Making a Difference in Communities

Posted on: 13 November 2018

One year into delivery and as we celebrate social action with #iwillWeek, we reflect on the success of our new sport programmes following three-year funding from Sport England and #iwill.

Last year, we were awarded a grant from Sport England and #iwill to help young people use sport to make a positive difference in their communities. The project builds on two existing Hub volunteering programmes, Branch Up and Empower, broadening their scope to include sport activities. In doing so, we aim to reach more children who are in the care system or underachieving at school, and to engage more volunteers, attracting students who would not normally consider giving back to the community.

Oxford Hub was the first to launch our sport programmes in 2017-18, shortly followed by Southampton Hub. Now that we are one year in, we are taking a moment to reflect on our learning and progress from our first year of delivery.


Over the year, we have worked closely with social services and schools to identify young people who will benefit from these programmes, bringing 44 inactive young people onto the programmes to date and with a considerable number confirmed to continue or join the activities this year. Our Empower and Branch Up programmes have been developed to incorporate sport, including both team sports and individual sports that may not have been previously tried. Activities so far have included trampolining, rock climbing, zumba and rafting!

These young people have been supported by 55 volunteers, 54% of whom had never or not regularly volunteered before. As part of this work, we are also committed to engaging more  male volunteers, who typically make up around 25% of our volunteer force. Oxford Hub has significantly scaled its male outreach, with sports programmes attracting 50% male volunteers. We are still working to increase this figure in Southampton and we will be applying our learning and efforts – including youth-led consultancy and new marketing materials – across the network, as we scale the initiative.


As always, measuring the double benefit of our activities is key to our work, and we are delighted to report the following outcomes for our beneficiaries, community partners and volunteers.

Of the volunteers who engaged with our Active programmes in 2017-18:

  • 77% reported that they were more confident in approaching challenges
  • 72% reported that they were more able to work with others to make change, with 68% reporting that they were more able to take the lead in achieving change
  • 38% said that they were more likely to pursue a career in education, youth work and/or social work and 58% said that Branch Up/Empower had changed their perception of working in education, youth or social work

For our community partners, which includes schools and social workers:

  • 100% reported that student involvement increases capacity to reach organisational aims
  • 100% reported that their organisation benefited from student expertise/perspective

We also ask volunteers to report on specific outcomes for the young people they support. For our Branch Up programme specifically:

  • 72% [Branch Up] and 63% [Empower] of volunteers observed a positive improvement in the child(ren)’s self-belief
  • 69% of volunteers observed a positive improvement in children’s social skills [Branch Up]
  • 63% of volunteers noticed a moderate or major positive change in the aspirations of the young people with whom they were working

Volunteers also commented:

“The children became more likely to engage and join in towards the end of the programme”

“In some cases, the kids were more confident in engaging and conversing with others from different backgrounds and cultures. In another case, they were more confident in fully engaging in the activity even if they would occasionally make a mistake.”

In Oxford, we also collected the following beneficiary outcomes data from our community partners:

  • 100% of community partners reported that the near-to-peer (volunteers close in age to children) relationship benefits the young person
  • 100% reported an improvement in the young person’s confidence and self-esteem
  • 25% reported an improvement in the young person’s knowledge of health and wellbeing
  • 50% reported an improvement in the young person’s general health and wellbeing
  • 75% reported an improvement in the young person’s engagement at school

Community partners also commented:

“The young person I referred absolutely loved the programme and wishes it could be more frequent. Having the programme to look forward to has contributed greatly to his behaviour at home, attendance and behaviour at school, it has helped him to become more active and has improved his outlook and aspirations”

“[Branch Up Active] provides the kids with positive role models who they can look up to. A lot of the children involved in the programme do not have positive relationships with adults and this programme has really helped them to build bridges.”


Our Bristol Hub is now busy launching sports programmes, and we’re excited to bring together our wider learning and programme development to launch at our final Hub in Kingston, in 2019-20.

“We’re excited to launch the Sports volunteering projects in Bristol and be able to offer our community partners a new way of engaging with Bristol Hub. We’re exploring how sports can raise aspirations amongst pupils, as well as building confidence and self-esteem.”

Emma Manion, Bristol Hub Manager

As part of our local evaluation plan, we are also excited to begin exploring various areas of additional learning, including:

  • Volunteering may keep female students in sport, and increase physical activity for those volunteers who are not interested in playing competitively at university level
  • How does sport and volunteering impact on the mental health and wellbeing of students involved in the intervention?
  • Working closely with our community partners to develop how we measure and work towards specific outcomes for our beneficiaries

Catherine Mitchell

Catherine Mitchell is Network Director at Student Hubs and, as part of her role, oversees implementation of our Sport England programmes. She joined the team as a Worthwhile graduate in 2014, having been involved with Southampton Hub since 2013.

Tags: Impact, News, Social Action

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