Job search
Job Search

Interview: Tim Hollingsworth

Following the departure of Jennie Price, Tim Hollingsworth, former CEO of the British Paralympic Association, was recently appointed as the new CEO of Sport England. He talks to Tom Walker about preparing for the role and his plans for the body

by Tom Walker, Leisure Media | Published in Sports Management 2019 issue 1
Read on turning pages | Download PDF of this issue
Tim Hollingsworth
Tim Hollingsworth

Shortly before the identity of Sport England’s new chief executive was revealed in August 2018, Sports Management asked a number of sport and physical activity sector leaders for their advice for the incoming CEO. The resulting article, published in the Q3 issue of the magazine, was picked up by Tim Hollingsworth – the person who the commentators were, indirectly, addressing.

“I pinned that article on the wall in my office at the British Paralympic Association,” says Hollingsworth, who by then knew that he would take up the CEO role in November 2018.

“The advice from the people in that piece was really helpful. It indicated that there’s a general feeling that it’s really important for the sport and physical activity sector to come together – and that Sport England has a crucial role to play in that.

“The advice called for better advocacy for what sport can do, strong leadership to galvanise the message of what physical activity can do towards creating a healthy nation and the need for effective partnerships. It is easy to agree with all of those points.”

Building on experience
Hollingsworth was appointed to the top job at Sport England after nearly eight years as CEO of the British Paralympic Association (BPA). He led the organisation into four Paralympic Games – including ParalympicGB’s best-ever Summer and Winter Games performances at Rio 2016 and PyeongChang 2018 – and was at the forefront of efforts to increase the profile and interest of the Paralympic movement. Prior to his time at BPA, Hollingsworth spent more than six years at high performance agency UK Sport – the last of which as chief operating officer.

How useful, then, will his 14-year experience of high performance sport be in his new, grassroots-oriented role?

“I think it will be useful when it comes to having an understanding of the clarity of outcomes,” he says.

“At BPA and UK Sport the medal targets helped sharpen our focus. The clearly defined targets gave us the ability to create a narrative around why we were doing what we were doing. So that is definitely something that I have at the front and centre of my thinking.

“But I also think that to get to the level we did at both UK Sport and BPA we moved beyond the medals and understood what it took to win – rather than just count how many medals we might win at a Games.

“Similarly, here at Sport England, it will be important to understand that it’s not just about getting a certain number of people more active, but about what the wider outcomes and benefits that getting people physically active can bring. And I think my experience will help with that.

“Another thing that working in elite sport has taught me is that if you are to achieve a target, you not only need to be clear about what that target is, but you also need a ‘licence to operate’.

“By that I mean the ability to put things together to achieve those targets. The ‘licence’ is about building your organisation’s credibility, strength of purpose and ability to partner to leverage and to maximise resource.”

From “what” to “how”
Hollingsworth takes the helm at a time when the agency’s five-year strategy, Towards an Active Nation, is at its midpoint. The document, published in May 2016, outlines the organisation’s direction of travel from 2016 to 2021.

Towards an Active Nation was launched in response to the government’s Sporting Future strategy and signalled a major change in focus for the funding body, leading it to direct more of its money and resources to tackling inactivity – rather than simply growing the numbers of people playing organised sport.

There was also a significant change in number of young people it needs to consider in its grant-giving. Sport England now dedicates funding to children from the age of five. Previously, it focused on helping youngsters from the age of 14 and up.

Coming in to Sport England at the middle of this major strategic shift, Hollingsworth says he sees an organisation in transition. “Sport England has been through quite a lot of change in the last few years – and that can be unsettling,” he says.

“It feels to me like there’s a general enthusiasm now to get on with the job, having worked out what the job is and how best we can deliver it.

“Over the last 24 months alone, we have invested more than £550m in over 3,000 projects and nearly 2,000 different organisations. Our focus on inactivity has seen us challenge the NGBs to improve the experience for the customer and help grow the number of people being active, and we have new partnerships with The Richmond Group of Charities, parkrun and the Daily Mile, to name a few.”

As a result of the ongoing changes, Hollingsworth sees one of his first tasks as CEO to offer direction towards the next stage of the transition.

“There has been a lot of work on ‘what’,” he explains. “Such as what the new purpose is, what the new targets are and what the responsibilities are.

“So one of my jobs is to start thinking about the ‘how’. How are we looking to deliver to the strategy? How should we behave and engage in a way that will maximise our opportunities? How are we delivering to people who are either looking for new ways to become active or improving their current levels of activity?”

Learning on the job
Hollingsworth says the work on the ‘how’ has already started. “We are now doing quite a lot of what in the corporate world would be called ‘test and learn’,” he explains.

“These include our local delivery pilots and the work we are doing around our data and our campaigning. So we’re doing things that are relatively new to the system. We need to learn from them, see whether they work and then decide whether they are the right things to be doing.”

He highlights the delivery pilots as an example of the ‘test and learn’ process. Recognising that communities have their own unique structures, relationships and geography, the pilots look to understand how local identities can be used to deliver sustainable increases in activity levels.

One example of the 12 targeted pilots is the Everyone Active, Every Day project in the London Borough of Hackney. The area – which has a large Black African/Caribbean population – is characterised by high levels of deprivation, low levels of education and high unemployment. Insight gathered during the early stages of the pilot has enabled the Sport England-funded programme to segment the audience according to specific needs and design interventions with partners to address them.

The creation of such targeted programmes marks a significant change in the way Sport England goes about its business – but for Hollingsworth it is the way forward. Even if some of the pilots might prove less successful than others.

“We spend a lot of time, quite rightly, on insight and evidencing what we do,” he says. “But a part of that must also be to have the boldness to get insight into something that doesn’t work – as well as looking to replicate something that does. As a public body, that is quite a challenge. But we need to be unafraid of that challenge.”

Partnering up
Another area in which Hollingsworth hopes to use his high performance sport experience is the way elite agencies have utilised partnerships – both inside and outside the sports sector. He was part of the UK Sport team which negotiated a technology partnership with BAE Systems – a collaboration which has yielded some impressive results for both Team GB and Paralympics GB. At BPA, Hollingsworth oversaw partnerships with the likes of Sainsbury’s, BP, Cadbury, Adidas and Allianz.

“At the BPA, commercial partnerships are critical as a vast majority of the income comes from the private sector,” he says. “That definitely taught me the importance of partnerships for achieving success.

“So I’m ambitious to get commercial partners involved with Sport England too. Obviously, as a lottery distributor and in receipt of public money, we aren’t necessarily gearing up to seek large amounts of commercial sponsorship. Not least because there is a danger that it could then cannibalise that which is available to our governing bodies. But I’m convinced we can do huge amounts with effective commercial partners here too.”

Hollingsworth mentions two areas in which partnerships could help the grassroots agency’s work. “Firstly, they can help amplify our messages – especially when it comes to our campaigns,” he says. “This Girl Can being the most obvious one.

“Amplifying our campaign messages in a retail context, through media channels or through a corporation’s customer base could be huge for us – and it’s something we need to do more of and be better at.

“Secondly, I believe we could learn a lot from some companies when it comes to their practices, business processes and the way that they engage with their audiences.”

The three Ps
By coincidence, Hollingsworth is speaking to Sports Management having just completed the first 100 days of his tenure. Has he now got the “feel” of the organisation and its people – and has he already identified any areas that he feels he wants to focus on as CEO?

“I have pretty quickly understood where I need to put my energy, in terms of what we are doing as an organisation,” he says. “I categorise them as the three Ps: a sense of purpose, a sense of people and a sense of place.

“What we’re trying to do – in very thoughtful and progressive ways – is to inspire people and to make them understand why sport and physical activity could be beneficial to them. To give them a sense of purpose.

“We then need to have people – whether that’s the coaches, volunteers or a professional workforce – who can help make the experience fun and enjoyable, so that those who have been inspired to become physically active want to repeat the experience and not feel like sport is not for them.

“And then there is the sense of place – the venues, the training centres, local clubs and other facilities – where it all happens. That is perhaps the most important out of the three, as it can truly deliver that wider benefit of giving people a feeling of belonging, a feeling of being part of something. It’s all about making ‘the place’ meaningful for those who have been inspired to come along and be active.

“Because ultimately, what we are trying to do – the behaviour changes, to get people more active – is solve complex human problems.

“We are trying to help people with their lives – their health, their wellbeing, their sense of inclusion and identity. And you can only do so much to solve that with mechanistic and transactional solutions. Ultimately, it’s about human solutions to human problems.”

Tim Hollingsworth: A career in sport
Tim Hollingsworth

Armed with a background in corporate communications at media companies such as Granada TV, Hollingsworth joined UK Sport as director of policy and communications in 2005, three months before London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. In 2010, he became the high performance agency’s chief operating officer, before being appointed chief executive of the British Paralympic Association in 2011.

At BPA, he led the organisation into four Paralympic Games, including a best-ever Winter Games performance at PyeongChang 2018 – where ParalympicsGB won seven medals, including one gold. That followed an impressive 147-medal haul at Rio 2016 at which ParalympicsGB finished second on the medal table – its greatest Summer Games performance in the modern area and up from third and 120 medals at London 2012. His success leading the team resulted in him being awarded an OBE in 2017. He was named CEO of Sport England in August 2018 and took up the role in November 2018, replacing Jennie Price who had been at the helm for 11 years.

Sign up for FREE ezines & magazines
Sports jobs
Everyone Active
featured job

Swimming Teachers

Everyone Active
Salary: Competitive hourly rate
Job location: Nationwide

Duty Manager

GLL
Salary: Up To £20,844 PA (based on 39 hours per week)
Location: East Road, Sleaford NG34 7EH, UK

Duty Manager

GLL
Salary: Up to £22,930 PA based on 39 hours per week
Location: Prestwood, Great Missenden HP16 9QY, UK

Recreation Assistant (Lifeguard)

GLL
Salary: Up to £22,008 per annum (40 hours a week pro rata)
Location: Vauxhall, South West London

Assistant Manager

GLL
Salary: Up to £31,251 per annum (based on 39 hrs per week)
Location: Faringdon, Oxfordshire, UK

Recreation Assistant (Lifeguard)

GLL
Salary: Up to £22,008 per annum (40 hours a week pro rata)
Location: Barnet, North London

Recreation Assistant (Lifeguard)

GLL
Salary: Up to £10.55 per hour
Location: New Addington, Croydon, UK

Recreation Assistant (Lifeguard)

GLL
Salary: Up to £22,008 per annum
Location: New Addington, Croydon, UK

Recreation Assistant (Lifeguard)

GLL
Salary: Up to £22,008 per annum
Location: Redhill, Surrey, UK

Receptionist

Legacy Leisure
Salary: Competitive
Location: Brackley, UK
recruiting with sports management

Swimming Teacher

GLL
Salary: Up to £16.89 per hour (including annual leave)
Location: Crystal Palace, London, UK

General Manager

Lex Leisure
Salary: Up to £40K plus generous bonus arrangements.
Location: Tilgate, Crawley, UK

Receptionist

Parkwood Leisure
Salary: Competitive
Location: Merthyr Tydfil, UK

Duty Manager

GLL
Salary: Up to £25,655 per annum
Location: Ruislip, UK

Recreation Assistant (Lifeguard)

GLL
Salary: Up to £22,008 per annum
Location: Greenwich, London, UK

Recreation Assistant (Lifeguard)

GLL
Salary: Up to £22,008 per annum
Location: Kentish Town, London, UK

Duty Manager

GLL
Salary: Up to £25,655 per annum
Location: Kentish Town, London, UK
recruiting with sports management

Assistant General Manager

The Gym Group
Salary: Competitive salary plus benefits
Location: Catford, London, UK

Leisure Centre Supervisor

GLL
Salary: Up to £22,930 per annum
Location: Belfast, UK

Receptionist

Legacy Leisure
Salary: Competitive
Location: Exeter, UK

Contract Maintenance Manager

Everyone Active
Salary: circa £33k
Location: Harrow, UK

Corporate Sales Manager (New Business)

GLL
Salary: Up to £35,952 per annum
Location: Brixton, London, UK

Team Leaders

Everyone Active
Salary: Competitive Rate of Pay
Location: Stratford-upon-Avon, UK

Maintenance Manager

Parkwood Leisure
Salary: Up to £31,000 per annum
Location: Whitechapel, London, UK
training with sports management

Recreation Assistant (Lifeguard)

GLL
Salary: Up to £10.55 per hour
Location: Archway, London, UK

Front-end Developer

The Gym Group
Salary: Competitive Salary
Location: Croydon, UK

Gymnastics Coaching Assistant

Wiltshire Council
Salary: £10.54 - £11.19 per hour
Location: Salisbury, UK

Sales Advisor

Lex Leisure
Salary: Competitive
Location: Sidcup, UK

Catering Manager

GLL
Salary: Up to £31,251 per annum (based on 39hrs per week)
Location: Manchester, UK

Community Sports Officer

GLL
Salary: Up to £20,844 p.a (pro rata to 30 hrs per week)
Location: Rugby, Warwickshire, UK

Recreation Assistant (Lifeguard)

GLL
Salary: Up to £18,305 per annum
Location: Buckinghamshire, Gerrards Cross, UK
lifeguard jobs  swimming teacher jobs  recreation assistant jobs  apprenticeships jobs  personal trainer jobs  Gymnastics Coach jobs  duty manager jobs  assistant manager jobs  general manager jobs  assistant general manager jobs  Catering Assistant jobs  Customer Services Advisor jobs 
More jobs

Catalogue Gallery

BSW: BSW is a manufacturer of sports floorings, sports mats, gym flooring, elastomer products for impact sound insulation and vibration isolation, anti-slip mats for securing loads as well as protective and separating layers.
BSW
JP Lennard: Leading supplier to Commercial Swimming Pools, Leisure Centres, Health & Fitness Clubs, Hotels, Holiday Parks, Schools and Universities, supplying thousands of products directly into these sectors.
JPL
More catalogues

Video Gallery

Wattbike
The choice of the elite. Wattbike introduced the first true indoor bike in 2008, changing indoor cycling forever. Developed in association with world class coaches and athletes, and now chosen by the world’s premier health clubs, cycling studios, and personal trainers as well as universities, the military, and countless athletes and coaches across the world, Wattbike has truly revolutionised indoor cycling. Want to join our revolution? Power up your business with Wattbike.
Visit website
More videos

Company profile

Company profile: Rubb Buildings Ltd
Rubb Buildings Ltd designs and manufactures relocatable, semi-permanent and permanent fabric engineered specialist sports buildings.
View full profile >
More company profiles

Featured Supplier

CIMSPA Youth Panel to give real insight into Gen Z at active-net 2020
It’s just months away until active-net 2020, the two-day educational, networking and business meetings event, which attracts professionals from across the leisure sector.
View full details >
More featured suppliers

Diary dates

10-12 Dec 2019
tbc, Fort Lauderdale, United States
21-23 Jan 2020
Harrogate Convention Centre, Harrogate, United Kingdom
29-30 Jan 2020
Holiday Inn San Francisco-Golden Gateway, San Francisco, United States
23-25 Mar 2020
Hilton, Barcelona, Spain
More diary dates