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What is the emotional culture at your club – fun-loving or apathy? Are there too many paid ‘professionals’ in Scottish sport? How do sports cope with different stages of return, and will we be competing for volunteers? And how do we innovate and grasp opportunities in sport?

Those were just some of the question posed by panelists and some of the 200 attendees in the latest OSS webinar, which focused on how we attract and grow our volunteers as we prepare to return to community sport after lockdown.

The coronavirus has swept a wave of uncertainty across the Scottish sporting landscape, but it has also provided an ideal time to re-visit how we grow a strong volunteering culture according to experts

Ian Sandbrook, a former Cricket Scotland participation and now global community sport adviser, based in New Zealand, spoke of feelings driving strategy in order to create a real volunteering culture.

“The area that I think has made the biggest difference is … feelings,” he said. “There are lots of pieces to this puzzle but that human, emotional piece is a bit that really sticks with people. what you create for your club or organisation in that culture space is the most influential piece in creating a volunteering culture. One of my favourite quotes is from Maya Angelou, a US civil rights activist (below), who said people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, bit people will never forget how you made them feel.”


Ian went on to explain what that means in the setting of a community sport club, and how you create a culture that helps people to feel involved about their volunteering – starting with getting people involved with your club into a room and talking about how they feel about their volunteering. The terms ‘equal’ and ‘fun-loving’ were key, and changing the ‘females do the cricket teas’ expectation.

He added: “Volunteering for me is all about engagement … and the currency of engagement is real human attention. We can have all the great plans, everything structured, but if you miss the human piece that will mean a lot and I’ve seen that often in clubs. So how do you want your people to feel, and what do you want them not to feel?

“Is this an opportunity to reset that culture, in a way that people can express and be part of shaping it?”

Mark Munro, Chief Executive of Scottish Athletics, explained how athletics had changed its focus in Scotland in the past decade to support volunteers more effectively, and it has resulted in the sport growing in rural and urban areas.

“We work with more than 4,000 volunteers involved in 157 clubs and over 500 jogging groups across the country,” he said. “If I go back nine years athletics wasn’t in a great place in terms of participation numbers and relationships across the sport, and we made the decision to put people right at the heart of our sport. We still focus on event so course but we focus right in on our clubs, and the volunteers in that environment, and we set about a modernisation project of our sport.

“For me, culture is key, around the behaviours and feelings. Volunteers get involved for different reasons, but they all want to come in and make a positive difference. They don’t want to feel pressured or overwhelmed, so do they know they role and the expectations?

“They also want to feel supported, and valued. So how do you make people feel valued? And volunteers want to be communicated with effectively. One area we’ve focused on and has been a secret to our success has been investing in really good communication with our members, both pre-lockdown and in the situation we’re in now to continue to make members feel supported and valued.

“We did some work where we put a value on athletics in Scotland and the value is about £8.3m a year, with is staggering. And we’re not as big as football, rugby and golf, so when you put sport together that value is absolutely phenomenal.”

Unfortunately, technical gremlins prevented George Thomson, Chief Executive of Volunteer Scotland, from joining the webinar, so we’ll save George for another day, but while there is a lack of research into volunteering in sport in Scotland – a focus for the OSS – Dr Fiona Reid, one of the OSS research advisers and a lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University, is also a member of the UK Sports Volunteering Research Network. She shared headlines from the Scottish Household Survey on volunteering stats in Scotland and from recent Sport England research that suggested that 50% of volunteers hadn’t stopped during the lockdown, but changed how they supported their clubs.

Among concerns highlighted by volunteers was a fear of returning safely to volunteering, not knowing what the ‘new normal’ will look like, and it changing all the time, and financial issues for clubs. Also, in the ‘new normal’, the demand for volunteers is likely to be higher, potentially increasing competition for those volunteers, which underlined the main message of the webinar – to think about your volunteers – by looking after existing volunteers and perhaps casting the net wider into the community when seeking new people.

The OSS would like to thank the 200+ people who signed up for the webinar and our panelists who shared their experience and tips for helping Scottish community sport shape a path back from the coronavirus lockdown.

Contact and background information

Webinar powerpoint presentation – OSS Webinar 5 – 10 June 2020

Ian Sandbrook –

Scottish Athletics –

Volunteer Scotland –

Contact Dr Fiona Reid –

Presentation links:

NCVO Blog focused on England Netball Volunteer Strategy:

There may be others – please email me to let me know where they are:

Research sources:

Nichols et al (2016)

Web link to summary report (24-27 April) :

Sport England research data :