The Get Out Get Active (GOGA) programme, supported by Spirit of 2012, inspires disabled and non-disabled people to be active together, aiming to get some of the UK’s least active people across 18 localities moving more through fun, inclusive active recreation and volunteering. When it comes to volunteering, GOGA’s approach is truly values driven with inclusion at its heart, enabling disabled people in particular to feel like they’re changing their own lives, the lives of others, feeling part of the community, feeling like they’re doing something that really matters – and that’s really worth it!
The benefits of sport and physical activity for disabled people is well documented but there remains some gap in knowledge around the benefits and experiences of volunteering in sport and physical activity for disabled people, particularly for people with autism and/or learning disabilities. That said, recent research by Activity Alliance titled ‘Encouraging more disabled people to volunteer in sport’ sport’ released in late 2017 has started to plug this gap when they explored the barriers to volunteering and the drivers that could improve its appeal. Encouragingly, their findings reinforces some of the learning we at Volunteering Matters a national partner of GOGA, are capturing from disabled people volunteering through GOGA, particularly through the Peer Mentor volunteer role.
Whilst this short article won’t address the gap in knowledge that remains, it will add to existing knowledge on the back of Activity Alliance research. It will shed some light on the power of offering the opportunity to volunteer alongside participation, in what has emerged as the ‘dual-role’ in sport and physical activity, to encourage more disabled people to get active through volunteering.
The emergence of the dual-role
One of the captivating themes from GOGA has been the organic emergence of what we have dubbed the ‘dual-role’ where disabled people in particular are taking up volunteering alongside their physical participation in GOGA activity. This dual-role is especially appealing for people with autism and/or learning disabilities and we have had the absolute pleasure to meet with some of them to better understand, from their perspective, why?
Well, having asked the question of a few GOGA volunteers in Fife and Rochdale who are all on the autism spectrum and involved in GOGA for at least 18 months, the collective answer is simply ‘I was offered the chance to volunteer!’ When each volunteer expanded on their reasons for taking the chance to volunteer alongside their participation, each felt by doing so they were ‘helping others to benefit from physical activity whilst helping myself at the same time, doing both makes me feel like I have more time!’
To a large extent yes, with 59% of disabled people compared with 53% of non-disabled people unable to commit to volunteering long-term according to Activity Alliance research. However, they acknowledge that their sampling by impairment groups were not equally representative with only 24 of the 551 disabled people who completed the quantitative study with a learning impairment. So it is quite revealing that volunteering in GOGA amongst disabled people, when combined with participation, is challenging this perceived barrier to volunteering amongst disabled people, especially those with autism and/or a learning disability.
The GOGA offer is proving that with the right opportunity, at the right time, at the right place and by co-creating the role with the volunteer to meet their specific needs, experiences and lifestyle you give yourself a better chance of providing a rewarding volunteering experience. Flexibility, ongoing support and opportunity for progression is absolutely crucial to this. This is where the expertise, experience and know-how of Volunteering Matters has played a crucial part in supporting GOGA to create flexible, meaningful and progressive volunteer roles that have appealed to disabled people. For us, the role that is having the greatest impact on disabled people is the Peer Mentor volunteer role that was produced with Disability Rights UK, also a proud national partner of GOGA.
Instead of going into the Peer Mentor volunteer role in this article, I would encourage you to read about the Peer Mentor volunteer role in practice in GOGA Fife’s case-study available on our GOGA Online Toolkit
Our learning from the GOGA approach is… any organisation, in any sector, who are looking to engage the least active in physical activity through their service delivery need to place equal value on their volunteering offer too. Even better, if your volunteering offer is co-created with potential volunteers themselves or existing participants, especially those with knowledge derived through their personal experience of a particular situation, you are much more likely to successfully engage with your target audience. In doing so, you are giving yourself a powerful ‘hook’ to engage both those disabled and non-disabled people who haven’t traditionally thought of physical activity being for them. A strong, flexible and inclusive volunteering offer can be the entry point into physical activity for those people that can make all the difference.
Activity Alliance has developed the ‘Talk to Me’ 10 principles that can help sport providers to deliver more appealing and inclusive opportunities for disabled people. These principles can certainly be applied to volunteering in the sport and physical activity sector, with many of them also applicable cross-sector to engage volunteers with meaningful opportunities that appealing to them. Watch and listen to Activity Alliance ‘Talk to Me’ video here
If you are serious about engaging the least active into sustained physical activity in your communities, make an inclusive volunteer programme a top priority. Our Online Toolkit is an excellent place to start.