Day 1 – Finding the Women

Over a six month period between October 2015 and March 2016, , funded by Sport England, which explored innovative ways to recruit, develop and retain women different backgrounds in coaching, activation and leadership. Each day this week in honour of our birthday we will be presenting some of the findings to you!

Finding the Women

As well as using their own existing networks, projects tried a variety of innovative ways of reaching out to, and engaging, potential participants.

Here are some examples of what’s worked and some key advice.

Lancashire Sport Partnership have a programme called Body Fit that is being run through , which provide counselling, confidence-building and employment support to women in the county. Many of the women engaged in the sessions have experienced issues such as domestic abuse, problems with alcohol or low self-esteem.

Physical activity is a great tool for developing confidence,’ says Project Lead, Jayne Wilson. ‘It’s about establishing a point of contact with each centre and getting them on board with it, and then getting the women through that first barrier and engaging with the leader, so they don’t feel they’re coming to a session where they don’t know anyone.’

Drawing on other organisations’ local knowledge is very important, says Lucy Brown of South Yorkshire Sport.

‘Something that’s been helpful for us is having a link with local leisure centres, which often act as community hubs. As well as being able to help with some of the activities on the project, they can give us an insight into the demographic and what works best.’

Leicester-Shire & Rutland Sport has made a number of useful contacts through local authority physical activity development officers. ‘They’re out there meeting people every day, so they often know of groups that might benefit,’ says Coaching Development Manager, Natalia Marshall.

This is a tried-and-tested method of accessing women – it works best when the school buys into your project and promotes it through their own communication systems. Many primary schools also have a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) that you can tap into.

‘It’s super important to get the school to almost take ownership of it,’ says Louise Evans of Active Devon, which has set up a . ‘After bringing in a leader from outside to start it off, we trained up the family support worker in the school to become a run leader, followed by a couple of other people to make sure it’s sustainable. Without support from the school I don’t think it would have been as successful as it has been.’

For many women, their hairdresser is someone with whom they’ve built up a special relationship and a level of trust. Hairdressers also have regular access to a large female customer base. This means they can be excellent channels through which to engage women – both the Greater Manchester Sports Partnership and Active Devon have set up a variety of activity groups attached to salons.

Dropping into the salon or phoning proved to be the most successful initial approaches – both projects first tried email, which resulted in fewer responses. ‘It’s also very important to get a key person such as the owner or manager on board, rather than a hairdresser who just rents a salon space’, says Louise Evans. ‘We avoided using the word “sport” but sold it as something else they could do to engage their clients, get their brand out there and grow their business. One salon now has the “Le Chique” running group, complete with t-shirts. People go to the hairdresser because they want to look and feel better, and physical activity is another way to help them achieve this.’

It’s also worth remembering that people go to the hairdresser on average once every six weeks, so your initial marketing campaign ideally needs to span a two-month period to give the hairdresser time to spread the word to as many clients as possible.

Finally, some county sports partnerships (CSPs) have found that very successful groups have come about through chance meetings and conversations, so it’s worth keeping your ears open and telling as many people as possible about your project. Leicester-Shire & Rutland Sport just happened to bump into a Muslim women’s group at a function, and it’s now taking an active part in the project.

Greater Manchester Sports Partnership has set up a group comprising neighbours on a new-build estate, where there have been efforts to foster a community identity. ‘They have a community board and their own Facebook page,’ explains Jane Gardiner. ‘But we only found out about it as one of the girls in the office lives there.’