Written evidence submitted by Active Essex



We are an Active Partnership, a publicly funded organisation, hosted by Essex County Council, whose aim is to make sport and physical activity accessible to all Essex residents. Our vision: To get 1 million people active by driving and sustaining participation in physical activity and sport. https://www.activeessex.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Active-Essex-Changing-1-Million-Lives-Strategy.pdf


We have been supporting grassroots clubs and organisations across Greater Essex, to navigate the government guidance, access emergency funding and helping them return to play – to keep Essex Active.


What are the biggest risks to the long-term viability of grassroots sport?


Trends across Essex clubs we are seeing from our place-based teams, working with our communities:


-          Many clubs have budgets for the season 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 which includes income from anticipated fundraising in the summer of 2020 which had to be cancelled. For many clubs this has meant a significant shortfall and there has been serious risk of closure for those without reserves.

-          Leisure Facilities are under great pressure. We have worked with Sport England and 11 local authorities to support them. A strong example of business failure is the Brentwood Leisure Trust, the operator of the Brentwood Centre was wound up on 28th October. It now leaves the Centre reopening at significant risk and ineligible for financial support under that scheme which will result in many job losses and important physical activity programmes such as fit and fed, chat 1st mental health and sport activity programme, community garden and cancer exercise referral programmes likely to cease or in need of new venues.

-          We are fielding an increasing amount of questions from clubs wanting to set up a hardship fund. Clubs are doing all they can to ensure people whose circumstances have changed can still access sport and physical activity despite many family’s personal leisure budgets being reduced. Despite a willingness for clubs to support their community with this, we need to ensure community sport and physical activity is accessible and affordable or there is a long-term threat of reducing club memberships across the county and country.

-          Clubs are not typically charging a full season membership up front due to uncertainty over play restrictions. This is resulting in clubs being close to the line in being able to pay for facilities, equipment, officials etc… This is also impacting clubs being able to think medium-long term.

-          Revenue taken from bars and clubhouses has been significantly impacted for the best part of 9 months and this for many clubs makes up most of their income. Fixed costs have remained and those without reserves are at serious risk of closing.

-          We are seeing local authorities cutting back on non-statutory services and things like pitch and building maintenance costs and administration is now being tasked to voluntary clubs. This paired with the lack of opportunity to raise additional funds has meant typically any sinking fund that clubs have for long term improvement plans is being dipped into just to survive. Clubs may now be years back in their development plans because of the pandemic.  

-          The Sport and PA volunteer workforce are resilient, but there are now even more pressures on volunteers who are already at or above capacity just to get the game on. There is a risk that if the sport and physical activity sector doesn’t get it’s recruiting, retaining and rewarding of volunteers correct, we could lose a significant amount of workforce and opportunities for communities to access grassroots sport.



What key measures could the Government introduce to increase the resilience of sports clubs and venues?


  1. A sports recovery fund, similar to the Culture Recovery Fund, with targeted investment to assist:

    • Community sport to build back better from Covid-19; further allocation of funds for Return to Play including harder to reach audiences
    • Capital investment into facilities

    2. Regulatory and Policy change 
    • VAT reduction to 5% for sports and leisure activities to match that given to culture and hospitality. This would assist with current sales including competition entry fees, sporting merchandise, memberships and tickets

Direct policy (linked to investment and recovery) to address inequalities amongst our community (universal proportionalism) and reset principals for operations to look at improving wellbeing not improving income for centres.

Ensure a whole system approach in policy across the board, stronger links to communities, health, active environments and education in particular.

3. Return to Play Guidance to support sporting and physical activity

• To continue to recognise the importance of playing sport to physical and mental health and the low risk of transmission. Outdoor and indoor sport should be promoted as much as possible within all future Covid restrictions