The Sport & Physical Activity Service (SPA) has worked in partnership with Leeds University Union (LUU) to support university sports clubs in providing vital sport and physical activities throughout the covid 19 pandemic.
With the gradual easing of restrictions following the first national lockdown in 2020, one of the key challenges facing the sports industry was the pace at which different national sports governing bodies were able to interpret and communicate the ‘return to play’ government guidance.
SPA and LUU were faced with the challenge of simultaneously re-opening facilities whilst interpreting different sporting guidelines to best support the 70 different student clubs in their return to activity. An early decision was made to engage with student club committee members throughout the process to ensure transparency, clear communication and collective decision making.
Working together, colleagues from SPA and LUU established a clear set of principles to shape decision-making from the onset: safety as a priority, a strict adherence to national governing body guidelines, putting students first (over any community or commercial bookings), being inclusive, and a willingness to make difficult decisions.
Based on these principles, since September 2020 SPA and LUU have adopted several key approaches:
- Establish clear facility programming principles, maximising access for different student groups.
- Engage with key industry bodies, such as Sport England UK, to develop a clear understanding of the information available and build confidence in interpreting and communicating it.
- Establish a clear understanding and process for the production and consideration of sports-specific COVID 19 risk assessments, including the introduction of a training programme for newly recruited sports club COVID 19 officers.
- Use feedback from student groups and the information available to develop a programme of COVID 19 safe activities, enabling student clubs to provide important sport and physical activities for their members.
- Confirm what funding is available to student clubs via the Gryphon Club Fund.
- Work with the university senior team to provide reassurance on the COVID 19 safe approach to the return of sport and communicate any key exemptions.
The effective use of virtual meeting platforms to bring together large groups of students has been a key factor in enabling the safe provision of sport and physical activities. Since September 2020, eight online ‘Safe Return to Sport’ webinars have been developed and have successfully engaged over 200 student club committee members. The webinars provide clear and timely information, seek feedback through two-way conversations, and provide a safe space for clubs to ask questions. In addition, a COVID 19 Officer online training programme has been developed and delivered to over 80 students.
In line with the principle of ‘students first’, SPA and LUU demonstrate an absolute commitment to prioritising student sport over any other user group. When facilities were reopened for student club access in October 2020, any indoor space (other than that being used by the NHS) was made available to students.
As a result of listening to feedback from committee members about what other support/programmes their members would benefit from, SPA and LUU have delivered additional Mental Health in Sport Workshops and are creating a bespoke first aid training package for students.
SPA and LUU have supported the production of 40 COVID 19 risk assessments since October 2020, working with sports clubs who wish to access university facilities to ensure that each risk assessment is compliant with the respective national governing body guidance.
Together, SPA and LUU have fostered a readiness amongst the senior team to permit access for sports clubs to facility space. As national government guidance evolves, the partnership is working to modify the key approaches and continue to deliver an enriching and engaging experience for around 6500 student members of the various sports clubs.