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Exploring Community Sport and Leisure Initiatives

Project Title: Improving lives through the power of football: A realist evaluation of the Foundation of Lights community and education programmes for children and young people.  

Funder: The Sunderland A.F.C. Foundation of Light  

DSER Staff: Mr. Andrew Bailey (PhD Student) and Prof. Paul Potrac  

Collaborators: The Sunderland A.F.C. Foundation of Light  

Governments and charities have increasingly positioned Sport for Development (SfD) programmes as an important tool for achieving several policy outcomes regarding the development, health, and wellbeing of individuals, groups, and communities.  

The transformational power of SfD provision, however, has been subject to increased critique, especially in terms of the depth and sophistication of the evidence base that such interventions are based upon. For example, while there is some evidence to suggest such programmes can improve the physical health of participants, there is much less regarding the wider outcomes (e.g., developing healthy lifestyles, developing life skills and psychological resilience, overcoming social isolation, and re-engaging individuals in education and training) that are often the central goals of such interventions.   

Indeed, the data which is currently collected on SfD provision is typically factual in nature (e.g., registration and attendance data) and offers little insight beyond how many people have participated with a particular programme. Thus, in order to better understand the transformational capacity of SfD, it is important to generate empirically and theoretically robust insights into the specific outcomes of these interventions and the mechanisms of change that enable them.   

Through the novel combination of realist and economic evaluation approaches, this project aims to produce original knowledge assessing the extent to which the Foundation of Light’s  community and education programmes for young people foster desired change for individuals, groups, and communities.,  In other words, what Social Return On Investment  these programmes provide.   

Find out more 

Gale, L., Ives, B., Nelson, L., & Potrac, P. (2019). (Dis)Trust in community sports work: Tales from the ‘Shop Floor’. Sociology of Sport Journal, 36(3), 244-253. 

Ives, B., Gale, L., Nelson, L, & Potrac, P. (in press). Community sport coaching: Policy, pedagogy and practice. London: Routledge. 

Ives, B., Gale, L., Nelson, L. & Potrac, P. (in press). Uncertainty, shame and consumption: Negotiating occupational and non-work identities in community sport coaching. Sport, Education and Society. 

Lee, R., & Potrac, P. (in press). Understanding (disrupted) participation in community sports clubs: Situated well-being, social practices, affinities and atmospheres. Wellbeing, Space and Society. 


Project Title: An investigation of the Human Capital within voluntary organisations involved with the Community Asset Transfer of formerly Local Authority owned Sport and Leisure Facilities   

Funder: Power to Change   

DSER Staff: Stuart Haw (PhD student), Dr Lindsay Findlay-King (Principal supervisor), Prof. Paul Potrac, and Karl Wharton MBE   

Collaborators: Dr Geoff Nichols (Sheffield University)    

The purpose of this jointly funded PhD (with Power to Change) is to critically examine the human capacities and capitals that volunteer groups need to successfully undertake and sustain the running of a previously local government managed community sports centre.   

While the community management of public sport and leisure facilities has attracted increasing attention in terms of government policy, there has been surprisingly little empirical study of this phenomenon in action. Indeed, research in this topic area has been limited to considering benefits associated with a community model of delivery  and exploring the associated policy rhetoric of empowerment, inclusivity and responsible sport and leisure service provision .   

Significantly, there has been little research that has addressed the micro-level enactment of this change, what difficulties are faced and what obstacles need to be overcome. Such work is essential to understand what human capital and capital development is required for community sport facility businesses to move from ‘surviving’ to ‘thriving’, to cope with tensions around ‘legitimate’ ways to manage and to achieve sustainability.   

The aim of this study is to examine human capacity: mobilisation, challenges and building needs in this context. Qualitative methods are being used to consider the sufficiency, knowledge, skills and experience requirements, of community human resources in this important area of sport facility provision.   

Find out more 

Allen, G., Velija, P., & Dodds, J. (in press). ‘We just thought everyone else is going so we might as well’: Middle-class parenting and franchised baby/toddler swimming. Leisure Studies. 

Findlay-King, L., Nichols, G. S., Forbes, D., & Macfadyen, G. (2018). Watching the pennies and the people–how volunteer-led sport facilities have transformed services for local communities. Managing Sport and Leisure, 23(4-6), 277-292. 

Findlay-King, L., Nichols, G., Forbes, D., & Macfadyen, G. (2018). Localism and the Big Society: the asset transfer of leisure centres and libraries–fighting closures or empowering communities? Leisure Studies, 37(2), 158-170. 

Nichols, G., Findlay-King, L., & Forbes, D. (2020). The Community Asset Transfer of Leisure Facilities in the UK: A Review and Research Agenda. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 31(6), 1159-1172. 


Project title: Providing for inclusive sport online: Insights and innovation in and of practice  

Funder: Delivered via partnership between Northumbria University and NEL Fund Managers, and which is backed by funding from Research England.  

DSER Staff: Dr. John Hayton and Dr. Nicola McCullogh  

Collaborators: SMILE Through Sport  

The COVID-19 global health pandemic and the widely implemented national lockdowns that it has precipitated have impacted and altered both the ways that people engage with sport and physical activity, but also the ways that providers of sport and recreation are able to continue to deliver services to their participants.   

Financially, the reduced custom and footfall of participants into sport organisations and clubs has also had adverse effects on their ability to generate revenue and, ultimately, presents challenges to their sustainability. These challenges are further compounded when the focus is turned to providers of disability sport, and whose participants may face greater challenges to remaining active during the pandemic in comparison to than non-disabled participants.   

SMILES Through Sport is a disability sport charity that provides sport training, events and activities for disabled people of all ages throughout the North East of England. This project seeks to support SMILE Through Sport to move elements of their provision to an online platform to increase the organisation’s reach, accessibility, and operational efficiency.   

The monitoring and evaluation built-in to this process will encompass a data gathering phase to fully understand participants’ accessibility needs as well as the piloting of online services to evaluate user experience. It is intended that a successful pilot will lead to a long-term roll-out of such services and provide the foundation for further research concerned with user engagement with inclusive online content, and which uses a framework of innovation to inform the development of digital practices for remotely engaging participants in physical activity.  

Find out more 

Haudenhuyse, R., Hayton, J., Parnell, D., Verkooijen, K., & Delheye, P. (2020). Boundary spanning in Sport for Development: Opening transdisciplinary and intersectoral perspectives. Social Inclusion, 8(3), 123-128. 

Hayton, J., & Blundell, M. (in press). Exploring the relationship between social class and sport event volunteering. Sport Management Review. 

Ludvigsen, J., & Hayton, J. (in press). Toward COVID-19 secure events: considerations for organizing the safe resumption of major sporting events. Managing Sport and Leisure. 

McCullogh, N., Boyle, S. E., Fothergill, M., & Defeyter, M. A. (2019). ‘A really good balance’: Thematic analysis of stakeholders’ views on classroom-and games-based positive choices interventions for primary school children. PloS one, 14(7), e0219503 




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