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People profile: Jo Irving

Project manager, Sported

Published in Sports Management 2019 issue 1
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Jo Irving is project manager at the Sported charity
Jo Irving is project manager at the Sported charity

What is Project 51?
Project 51 is a joint programme, which brings together our expertise in working with community sport groups with Women in Sport’s knowledge and insight on engaging women and girls in sport and physical activity.

We’ve called it Project 51 because 51 per cent of the UK population are female, yet when it comes to sport and physical activity, almost 1.5 million more men than women are playing sport once per week. The programme aims to help community sport groups in deprived areas become more inclusive by breaking down the gender stereotypes that prevent more women and girls from getting active. For example, only 43 per cent of girls say they have the same choices as boys at school in terms of sport and exercise, and amongst secondary school-age children, being ‘sporty’ is still widely seen as a masculine trait.

What led to this programme being created?
Over the last ten years we’ve built this incredible membership network of 3,000 community groups across the length and breadth of the UK, all using sport for social change. Our mission is to strengthen their sustainability and build their capacity to reach and change even more young lives.

We know many of our members would like to start or expand work with girls but don’t know how to do it. Project 51 lays the foundations, and through a partnership with Women in Sport provides insight, training and a structured plan to take them forward to becoming more inclusive and accessible.

Project 51 is funded by Comic Relief’s Levelling the Field initiative. It builds upon the work of a successful pilot we ran in Northern Ireland called Engage Her, which has seen great success.

How does it work?
Project 51 is all about fostering long-term sustainable change by empowering and upskilling the staff and volunteers of community sport groups. Women in Sport has some fantastic insight and resources on attracting and retaining women and girls into sport. By training and upskilling our own field team and volunteers, we can help disseminate this knowledge to our members.

Through Project 51 we help our members with things such as how to market and promote their activities to women and girls, consulting and adapting sessions to meet their needs, and monitoring and evaluating their impact.

Tell us about Young Influencers
We felt it was really important to involve our target demographic in shaping and informing the programme, as they are best placed to help create change within their group and community. So we asked participating groups to nominate girls who were role models and peer influencers within their groups and clubs.

We selected a group of seven amazingly talented and confident girls who became our Young Influencers. They take part in focus groups, write blogs, launched their own Instagram page and shared their experiences on-stage in front of a live audience of industry experts and decision makers at Women in Sport’s Empower conference and Sported’s tenth anniversary event.

What impact has the project had so far?
Project 51 is improving the lives of girls across the country. Girls from participating groups are telling us they have more opportunities to be successful and active and are more positive about their futures.

Project 51 came along at the perfect time for our members. It’s fitted in with their strategic aims to engage more women and girls and they’ve all really embraced it, particularly around consulting their members about their needs and listening to their views around what could be done to improve the overall experience.

Many of our groups have launched new girls-only sessions, while others have revamped their marketing. But for me it’s the smaller success stories, which could easily go unnoticed, that show our impact. For example, one group working in a particularly deprived community has started providing free sanitary products to help their girls feel more confident and comfortable attending training. It’s stuff like this that makes me proud to be a part of the project.

What are your plans for the project?
We’re now in the second year of the programme and we’ll be working with another fifteen groups. Alongside this, we’ve recently been awarded a grant from the London Marathon Charitable Trust to launch a similar programme, focusing on London and the South East. These funds will allow us to open out the opportunity for all our members.

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