Volunteers support for grassroots sport improves others health

Tens of thousands of volunteers have been praised for their support of grassroots sport to improve health across North Yorkshire and bring communities together to tackle social isolation.

Work is under way to highlight the importance of physical activity and to encourage people to be more active to improve their well-being.

More than 100,000 volunteers are playing a vital role in supporting grassroots sport in North Yorkshire and promoting an active lifestyle.

The network of sports clubs and organisations across the county is seen as an extremely important resource to achieve the aims of helping residents to adopt healthier lifestyles.

It is hoped that the chance to join a sports club will also help people to engage with like-minded individuals to tackle social isolation.

Director of public health Louise Wallace has identified the need to encourage people to become more active as a key priority to boost health.

Executive member for health and adult services, Cllr Michael Harrison, said: “The importance of a healthy lifestyle is well documented, and we are committed to encouraging people across North Yorkshire to embrace this and to be more active wherever they can.

“Grassroots sports plays such an important role, as it helps people engage in their communities and find inspiration from others to help them keep active.”

NHS guidelines state that adults aged 19 to 64 should do some form of physical activity every day, and exercise just once or twice a week can reduce the risk of serious medical conditions, such as heart disease or stroke.

Research by the Sport and Recreation Alliance, which represents the sport and recreation sector nationally, has also shown the importance of a healthier lifestyle. It revealed that grassroots sport and recreation deliver a wide range of benefits, including improved physical and mental well-being.

The study showed physical inactivity is the fourth largest cause of disease and disability in the UK – 33 per cent of men and 45 per cent of women are not active enough for good health.

According to data from Sport England’s Active Lives research, 114,000 people in North Yorkshire volunteered to support sport between November 2021 and November 2022 – more than a fifth of the county’s adult population.

North Yorkshire Sport’s chief executive, David Watson, said: “Volunteering in grassroots sport can be hugely rewarding, enabling people to use their transferrable skills in a new environment while meeting new people, making friends and inspiring others to be active.

“I would encourage anyone who wants to get involved to get in touch either with North Yorkshire Sport or the council and we will be happy to help.”

Find more information about volunteering in North Yorkshire.

Read about the volunteers below

‘There are people from different backgrounds, fitness levels and age groups’

Getting healthy and volunteering often feature in our New Year resolutions but we perhaps do not find the time to realise them. But one group in Harrogate had found a way to combine both.

Community Fit has been around for 12 months and sees people spend one evening a week running, cycling or walking up to three miles to a local charity or community group to spend an hour helping them out.

“A lot of what we do is outside, so we recently dug out a pond next to a church for example,” says James Tilburn, 45, one of the group’s founders.

“It is a really big social activity. There are people from different backgrounds, fitness levels and age groups, we are very inclusive when it comes to accessibility and that is also taken into account when we are picking what task to do to make sure everyone can take part.”

The team takes suggestions from local groups and charities before deciding where to head for that week’s good deed. It can be anything from sorting donations to moving furniture, painting, tree planting or litter picking.

The group has grown from four or five regulars to almost 50 people.

James said: “We want to do more to help Harrogate’s elderly population, so that is definitely what we are looking at next.”

Find more information about Community Fit.

‘The club is an important social space for young people’

The importance of volunteering is ingrained in Jennifer Aspden’s family, who are heavily involved in the running of Bedale Junior Football Club.

The mother-of-two has been a coach for over five years and has been hailed for championing women’s football as this summer’s World Cup gets under way.

Jennifer’s husband, Brett, is the head groundsman, and their daughter, Natasha, 23, volunteers in the café. Their 15-year-old son, Oliver, who plays for the under-16s, also helps to coach the younger teams.

“The football club is close to the heart of our family,” said Jennifer, from Catterick. “Like many clubs, they were short of coaches, so I started volunteering and our involvement has grown from there.”

Jennifer has coached the under-sixes up to the under-nines and has recently introduced 24 girls to the sport.

“The success of grassroots football in rural areas such as Bedale can’t be downplayed,” she said. “The club is an important social space for young people, many of whom don’t go to the same school but have made friends here.

“We aim to boost confidence, promote fitness and above all have great fun. We are an inclusive club, welcoming people of all abilities.

“The club relies on a team of dedicated volunteers, and we are always on the look-out for more.”

‘It has been a fulfilling, rewarding experience’

Alexandra Kynman is a special educational needs primary school teacher by day, but every other weekend you will find her in the pool helping people to find joy in the water.

The 25-year-old is a volunteer swimming teacher supporting one of the largest swimming groups in the UK – Scarborough Disabled Swimming Group (SDSG).

Scarborough Disabled Swimming Group, which is based at Scarborough Sports Village, offers fortnightly accessible swim sessions on Saturdays from 5.30pm to 7pm for people of all ages with a disability. It relies on volunteers and currently has 29 who help to provide a safe, pleasant environment for the swimmers. Their roles vary from assisting swimmers, encouraging them from the poolside and helping behind the scenes by organising galas, social and fundraising events.

Alexandra, who joined almost 12 months ago and enjoys delivering specialist swim sessions and activities, said: “Since I joined Scarborough Disabled Swimming Group, it’s been a fulfilling and rewarding experience to provide support to people to manage their condition and strength. We encourage swimmers of all ages and disabilities to gain confidence in the water, learn to swim and further develop their skills.

“There are a number of sessions which include general swimming, hydro rehab and fitness, all-age aqua sensory and family activity sessions. Every person is unique, and it is this diversity that matters during every session. However, it’s not just swimmers who benefit, it’s volunteers as well who like to get involved and experience working with people with specialist needs and gain important qualifications.

“There’s an amazing sense of achievement to know that I have helped people achieve the simplest of things, which sometimes can be a huge milestone for others.”

‘Young people can gain confidence and forge friendships’

Few people pack more into their week than full-time barrister Tom Tyson. Alongside his demanding day-job, Tom has volunteered for almost 10 years at his beloved Malton Cricket Club as a coach, championing women’s involvement in the sport.

He has fond memories of playing cricket from an early age, and his sons are now key features of the junior team.

“Balancing my work and personal life is extremely difficult as the nature of my job can bring long hours,” said Tom.

“However, coaching gives me the opportunity to switch off and means I can give something back to a club which welcomed me in.”

The club has a renewed focus on developing female participation in cricket, with numbers increasing for their Saturday sessions.

“I do it for the love of the club and to ensure it has a bright future by training the next generation,” added Tom.

“The club is a place where young people can gain confidence, forge friendships and improve their physical and mental health. Our aim is to ensure that we offer a safe and welcoming environment for all.”

Tom’s humility shines through as he thanks the four full-time qualified coaches and others behind the scenes who give their time to ensure the club’s long-term success.