We're aiming to put £10 million a year into community sport

June 24, 2020

GB Athletics Star Hails Volunteer Army

It took a global pandemic to deny triple gold medallist Stephen Miller a seventh successive Paralympic appearance this summer. GiveToLocal caught up with Great Britain’s London 2012 captain and discovered how Tokyo 2021 is still in his sights.

GiveToLocal: How much does athletics rely on its grassroots clubs, coaches and volunteers?

Stephen Miller: Quite simply athletics wouldn’t exist without grassroots clubs and volunteers. Most athletics clubs are run by volunteers and their coaches are also voluntary. They do it for the love of the sport. The elite level is just the tip of the iceberg - grassroots is where the lifeblood of the sport is and it’s something I’ll always be a part of and support.

GTL: What are the benefits felt by communities able to access grassroots athletics?

SM: Athletics is a sport that touches a wide variety of people. It’s a very diverse sport that anybody can get involved in and at the grassroots level it can bring communities together and give people a sense of purpose and belonging. There are also the physical and mental benefits from taking part in regular sporting activity.

GTL: As a child how did you benefit from grassroots sport?

SM: Sport was a key part of my development as a child. It helped me learn about myself, to meet new friends and build positive relationships. I learned lots of skills through taking part in lots of different grassroots sports as a child: skills that have helped me all through my life such as communication, teamwork, planning, goal setting and evaluation. I also acquired many values, like respect, responsibility, honesty, resilience and patience. Taking part in grassroots sport really helped me to build self-confidence and become comfortable with who I am.

GTL: Who were the key figures in your grassroots journey and how did they influence you?

SM: It started with my parents and their willingness to take me to sports clubs and after school sessions, as well as taking me to competitions. Then it was the coaches that volunteered, giving up their time to help others to be able to enjoy sport. That was the key influence they had on me. They encouraged me to enjoy playing sport and to not get too carried away with winning and losing.

GTL: How important is it that communities rally around their grassroots clubs and ensure they survive beyond the coronavirus crisis?

SM: It’s essential that we support the grassroots structure because millions of people rely on it to be able to take part in sport. Sport is a vital part of society, both in terms of living healthily but also for forming relationships within communities. Without grassroots clubs lots of people would not access sport, this would have a knock-on effect with elite sport and with general health.

GTL: GiveToLocal is built around a sustainable funding model - how difficult can it be for grassroots clubs to bring in new income and broaden their reach as far as new donors and sponsors are concerned?

SM: Even though I’m classed as an elite athlete, I’ve pretty much operated in and around the grassroots level for most of my career and I know it can be very difficult to fundraise and get sponsorship as the charity sector gets more saturated and people have less money to donate. That’s why the GiveToLocal idea is so great and could be a lifeline for many clubs.

GTL: How disappointed are you that Tokyo 2020 has been postponed and how has it affected you?

SM: It was disappointing but in the end it was inevitable. I think the uncertainty was the hardest thing to deal with and at least now we have a new target to aim for. I’m looking at it positively and it’s giving me the chance to have some much-needed rest and recharge the batteries.

GTL: Is it full steam ahead for 2021?

SM: Yes, I’m still planning to compete in Tokyo next year.

GTL: This must be the first summer in 30 years where you have yet to compete…what does that feel like?

SM: It’s strange to be honest, it feels like a mini-retirement. I’ve been competing every year since being 14 so it’s been a big part of my life. I’m trying to make the most of the extra time. I’ve been doing some online courses and delivering online experiences through Airbnb which you can find out about here – airbnb.co.uk/thinkpositive

GTL: Is there the prospect of any competitive action in the near future?

SM: I don’t know if we’ll be able to compete this year. It all depends on Government guidance and updates from the governing bodies. Of course the main priority is staying safe and healthy. I am training as much as I can to maintain my fitness and wellbeing.

GTL: You’re also heavily involved with SMILE Through Sport - what’s happening with the organisation right now and how can people help/support the team through this difficult period?

SM: My non-profit SMILE Through Sport has been hugely affected by COVID19. We have had to suspend all our sessions and events - most of our staff have been placed on furlough. However, we’ve been thinking of ways to adapt to the situation and we have been running new schemes called ‘Borrow a SMILE’ and ‘Donate a SMILE’. These are initiatives where care homes, organisations and individuals can hire directly or pay for someone else to have a box of sporting equipment for a week. The schemes have been successful and enabled people to continue to do sport despite lockdown. SMILE works with the very people who benefit most from grassroots sport, helping the most vulnerable in society to access sport. We rely mainly on external funding to operate so all financial support we receive is greatly appreciated and goes towards helping more people have access to sport.

For more information about SMILE see smilethroughsport.com or email info@smilethroughsport.com

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