Live: Q&A with Colin Stromsoy, director of strategic partnerships at GiveToLocal

Colin Stromsoy connects sport’s national governing bodies with GiveToLocal. In his role with the North East-based sports tech innovator, he’s turning his attention to leaving a lasting legacy.

As director of strategic partnerships at GiveToLocal what is your primary role?

I connect our organisation with national governing bodies (NGBs), sport organisations and charities to develop partnerships that are designed to have a positive impact on community sport clubs across the UK. During the last year GiveToLocal has partnered with a wide variety of NGBs including Basketball England, the Wheelchair Football Association, the British American Football Association and British Dodgeball. We’re working with many regional Football Associations across England, charities connected to sport — such as the brilliant Tennis For Free — and active partnerships such as RISE right here in the North East.

We love to work with like-minded organisations. As an example, right now we’re supporting the charity Made By Sport who have just launched a £4m fund to help grassroots sport clubs and organisations look forward to a bright future post-pandemic. In tandem with the NGBs and regional sports bodies we help connect clubs to the heart of their local communities. Clubs affiliated to NGBs can join GiveToLocal and look to a future where long-term, sustainable income can become a reality. I’ve been involved in a number of conversations with NGBs over the last few weeks and months which have had a major focus on getting clubs back to a position where people can play sport safely again. That’s the priority and GiveToLocal is playing a positive role in supporting that effort in every way we can.

Can you describe your experience of working with NGBs and why they play such a valuable role?

Our NGBs are a source of great strength in this country and, in many respects, don’t get the appreciation and thanks that they deserve. What they do goes largely unnoticed. Perhaps one of the positives to come out of this recent period is a new-found appreciation for just how vital a role our NGBs play at both a national and regional level. On a personal level, I have worked with most of the country’s NGBs at one time or another from the senior executives through to the vital administrators and — without exception — they are incredibly talented and passionate people who give everything for their sport. What’s often misunderstood is that most of our NGBs aren’t the size of the FA or the RFU but are much smaller and have just a few staff to run an entire sport. Thankfully, all of our NGBs are supported by incredible volunteers without whom we wouldn’t see the levels of community sport we have in this country.

What have been the greatest challenges facing NGBs during the last 12 months and has there ever been a more testing time for the sport sector?

Our NGBs have faced a multitude of challenges during the past 12 months — a period which has been, without doubt, the toughest any of our sporting organisations and bodies has ever had to face. From my experiences of working with them during this period, I would say that the most challenging aspect has been to maintain an optimism about the future whilst putting into place a support system to help ensure their clubs survived. They’ve had to do this at the same time as make serious cuts to both people and operations to ensure their own ongoing survival. With the huge reduction in funding available, our NGBs have done a truly incredible job and it’s thanks in part to them that we haven’t seen the negative impact of the pandemic on sport that many people initially feared. It must be remembered that whilst things are starting to improve, our NGBs are still faced with the enormous challenge of ensuring people can start to play their sport again in a safe and meaningful way. They are still having to interpret ongoing and changing Government policy and communicate that to clubs and other stakeholders whilst many remain very understaffed. My personal hope and expectation is that we’re now on a consistent path back to normality and sporting engagement and that the people within the NGBs will soon be able to have a well-deserved break and look back on a challenging period with great pride.

How can GiveToLocal continue to support NGBs and work together with sport leaders to create a bright future for community sport?

At GiveToLocal we’ve been determined to do all we can to support clubs and NGBs through this challenging period as it’s only through teamwork and collaboration that we have managed to avoid the worst effects of the pandemic. However, we can’t avoid the truth that the next few months will be extremely challenging as things do start to get back to what looks more like normality. We already know that the funding from Government will not be there in the way it has previously with many of the schemes to help clubs survive coming to an end. Much of the commercial income and grant funding from charities that clubs and NGBs have benefitted from in the past will also not be available or be at vastly reduced levels. It is against that backdrop that the GiveToLocal community-based funding model will be ideal in helping clubs and NGBs connect back into their communities in a way some may not have done previously and provide a long-term funding solution. We’re also working with our NGB partners on a new campaign-led strategy designed to help our clubs engage their communities and bring many of our corporate partners together to support it. Working in collaboration with our NGBs has always been key to what we do and we’re completely committed to ensuring that there’s a bright future for community sport.

Just how difficult has the past year been for everyone involved in community sport?

It’s been incredibly challenging. In terms of participation and competition, community sport has been decimated. Even so, the enduring capacity of club officials and volunteers to adapt to a crisis means that the majority of clubs, in most sports, are in a position to return to action this summer. It’s quite remarkable really and it proves just how resolute and resilient the grassroots sports community is and always has been. There are some sports which have been closed down for more than a year now. Just think about what’s been lost during that time. All of the positive experiences we associate with sport have been missing for the last 12 months. The negative impact on the mental and physical health of everyone involved with community sport can’t be underestimated. GiveToLocal wants to help clubs get back to where they were sooner, rather than later. We’ve stayed positive during an incredibly difficult year because we understand just how valuable community sport can be.

How have you coped with the situation personally?

In many respects my work with GiveToLocal has helped me to maintain a focus and look towards a more positive future. However, like everyone involved directly with community sport I’ve endured some pretty challenging days. I coach a local football team and we’ve effectively lost two seasons due to the pandemic. I haven’t had any face-to-face contact with my players for months and we only managed to play 12 games out of a 38-game season before the current campaign was postponed and eventually cancelled. Thankfully, I’ve managed to stay optimistic for the most part and believe that we can genuinely look forward to a positive year.

What are you looking forward to in the coming weeks?

I’m  back to coaching young footballers for the first time in five or six months. It feels like a huge step forward and yet it brings into sharp focus the mental toll that this pandemic has had on so many people. There’s a big difference between personal exercise and organised, competitive sport. The latter is all about contact, communication and camaraderie and all of that has been lost for a long time now. There’s no substitute for that shared experience and that common mindset. That’s what I’m really looking forward to experiencing again.

Is leaving a legacy to community sport important to you and how will that look?

It’s something that I’ve started to think about in last few years. I’m very lucky. The role I have now means I can make a real difference and working with like-minded colleagues means I have the opportunity to make an even greater impact in the future. Collectively, the GiveToLocal team is perfectly positioned to do good through the power of sport. By working in partnership with key national and regional sporting organisations and community-focused businesses there’s a positive legacy to come out of this period. There needs to be a collaborative approach to supporting community sport and GiveToLocal will always work alongside NGBs, charities and organisations to ensure that support is there now and in the future.

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Picture courtesy of Mantis Media