In a Q&A session, Alex Welsh, Chief Executive of the London Playing Fields Foundation discusses the Olympic legacy and suggests that professional sportsmen and women have a duty to support grassroots facilities
Q: What advice do you have for community sports clubs struggling to survive in the present climate?
A: Do not fear change, embrace it. Be more business orientated and use the professional expertise that exists within the club. Consider joint ventures and amalgamations with other organisations, if appropriate. Develop good working relationships with schools, local authorities and national governing bodies of sport. Garner political support and raise awareness of your contribution to the local community.
Q: What are your top tips for attracting funding?
A: Lead with the need. Have a clear vision and realistic objectives. Look beyond the obvious and identify multiple outcomes that might attract funders from outside the sector. Do your homework and understand where your project fits in to the bigger picture. Source professional advice and do not expect something for nothing. And, most importantly, don't give up, because perseverance pays.
Q: How important are groundsmen to the livelihood of grassroots sport and why?
A: On-site groundstaff are extremely important, as the pitch quality is crucial to maintaining your customer base and sets you apart from the competition. Fine turf surfaces, such as bowling greens and golf courses, require time, commitment and TLC.
LPFF groundstaff are the public's first point of contact, and it is critical that they develop a rapport with our users and partners, are adaptable and buy into the philosophy of intensive use.
National governing bodies, Pitchcare and the associations can also provide help and advice on maintaining pitches.
Q: Do you believe that the amount of money being made available under the 2012 legacy is sufficient? If not, how much should be being made available?
A:The vast majority of public money available has gone into staging the Games and only very small amounts have been allocated to the grassroots legacy. In London this amounts to £15m compared to £3.9bn initially allocated for the Olympic Park and its infrastructure.
Ironically, at a time when the 2012 Games has shone the spotlight on sport, at grassroots level we have been enduring a perfect funding storm created by the following:
- Massive cuts in local authority spending
- A huge drop in Lottery funding for grassroots sport from £423m in 1995 to £213m in 2009
- 33% drop in philanthropic giving
- A halving of the Football Foundation budget
- Dismantling of the Schools Sorts Partnership network
Sport England has recently launched its Places People Play £135m programme, but you could argue that this should have been introduced much earlier to have the desired effect.
Q: Do you think that there is a strong and clear enough strategy for the continuing development of grassroots sport, post 2012? What is your solution for creating a more sustainable future for grassroots sport?
A: Sport England is currently working up a new strategy for grassroots sport, and the FA is in the middle of a national consultation exercise on player pathways that will inform its approach to shaping the future of the game.
Many of us in grassroots sport are looking forward to the post 2012 funding landscape, where there should be more money available. As the money for good causes is realigned, with the proportion for sport going up from 16% to 20% and funds that were hitherto allocated to staging the Games coming back to grassroots sport, it should be easier to acquire grant aid.
In terms of the National Governing Bodies, we think that sports like football, cricket and rugby should be more customer driven rather than slavishly following the school/club link model.
They need to be more innovative and empower local deliverers to be creative in the way that they stimulate and sustain participation. At the moment, it is too top down driven.
The other big weakness is the failure to recognise that the biggest barrier to participation is ability or the perceived lack of it. In our major team sports, if you are not considered good enough you are not selected. This means that, as only the top 25% of talented performers are picked for the teams at school and club level, a large number of enthusiastic participants of average ability or below are neglected.
The NGB's need to engage with this untapped audience who would love to play sport, but are deemed surplus to requirements. At the LPFF, we have successfully delivered a project known as Keep on Playing Sport (KOPS), which targets 16-19 year-old males who have never represented their school or club teams, and the results have been very encouraging.
The other major step change needed is for NGBs to be more adept at realising multiple outcomes, by recognising that the wider health and social benefits of playing sport can be huge.
Q: Under the Big Society vision, do you think that top-flight sportsmen and women should plough some of their salaries and winnings into grassroots sport. Chelsea's John Terry recently announced that he was to help the local club where he played in his younger days. Singlehandedly, such sporting stars could save many local clubs from extinction. Do you think that a national initiative ought to be launched, under which a set proportion of earnings was channelled into grassroots sport automatically?
A: The idea of our high-earning footballers investing a small percentage of their salary (in a tax efficient way) into grassroots sport is excellent. We have fourteen Premiership and Football League clubs in London, and most of the home grown players at these clubs started off their fledgling careers on local playing fields or play grounds.
Players and clubs should recognise the debt they owe to organisations like the LPFF and engage in some form of charitable giving. With this type of investment, support and publicity we could help safeguard the long-term future of playing fields and help to widen, increase and sustain grassroots participation.
Q: Is there scope for the general public to bequeath more money to grassroots sport? How would such schemes work do you think?
A: Under the Big Society theme the Government is trying to reinvigorate philanthropy, which is an under tapped resource. Emerging trends in philanthropy indicate that private wealth is increasing, more people are giving within their lifetime, givers want to see the impact of their donations and, as a result, individual giving is becoming increasingly important to third sector organisations.
Some of the bigger health charities have benefited from some huge legacies and, at the LPFF, two of our senior trustees are spearheading a Legacy Giving Campaign. One big problem of this type of donation is that you cannot plan for it but, when it arrives, it comes as a nice surprise.
• Twenty years ago there were 26,000 playing fields across the country. Now, there are 19,000.
• In 1990, there were 1,126 grass cricket wickets in London. By 2010, this figure had fallen by 40% to 681.
• In the Olympic borough of Tower Hamlets, there are no grass cricket wickets, for a population of 220,000.
• London has 1,500 playing fields, but very unevenly distributed. Barnet has ninety-seven, whereas the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has four.