About Linda Cairns

Linda Cairns has worked with volunteers for the last 20 years, in sport, publishing and education. She has managed teams of volunteers in the UK and abroad and knows firsthand what it is like to be a volunteer.

#ParentsInSportWeek and I’m remembering my dad

This #ParentsInSportWeek has made me think of my dad. It’s made me think of the effect he had on me and my early experiences of sport.

These days, all my thoughts about parents in sport usually revolve around organising activities and competitions for children – and seeing how their parents relate to their children in the heat of the event. Do the parents encourage, empathise and just enjoy the experience? Or do they push, pressurise and humiliate? Those of us regularly involved in youth sport will have seen pushy parent behaviour that is bordering on bullying.

Graduate sailing dinghies

So, I’m remembering my dad. And I’m remembering sailing with him when I was about 8 years old. We were sailing in a graduate dinghy on a gravel pit. And I was learning to helm – to steer the boat. I was nervous, and this was a big thing for me. I could manage to helm in a straight line and get all the way across the lake. But then you had to “tack” to change direction. This was a scary manoeuvre for me at the time. It must have been a big block because, even now, I can visualise the bank looming up and time running out to push the tiller away, cross the boat, swap tiller and main-sheet hands and head off in the new direction. Week after week I would lose my nerve. I would try my hardest but at the last minute, I would bottle out and swap places with my dad, and he would tack the boat. Then we would swap back again.

What I’m realizing now, and what I never noticed at the time, was his patience. He just let me helm, swap, tack, helm again. I don’t know how many weeks we did this. He never criticised me or pushed me beyond my limit. He very slowly let me build up my confidence. And eventually I must have learnt to tack that boat.

From learning to tack, my skills improved and my confidence in my ability grew. I was hooked and sailing became a huge part of my world. My confidence in myself grew too and I made lots of friends through the sport. I subsequently went on to compete at National level and was invited to join the Women’s Olympic training squad.

In #ParentsInSportWeek week, I am thinking of my dad. And thinking how differently things could have turned out. How easily he could have run out of patience, pushed me to tack before I was ready and put me off. He could so easily have turned me away from sailing for ever.

Thanks Dad. You’ll never read these words. You’ll not know that you instilled values in me that I hold dear and that I am now trying to use to support parents and children in sport. You won’t know what I am achieving now. But I hope that you did know what effect your patience had on my emerging confidence and my love of sailing all those years ago.

Government strategy and funding for sport volunteers

At the end of 2015, the UK Government published Sporting Future: A new strategy for an active nation. This strategy marked the biggest shift in Government policy on sport in more than a decade, and it actually mentions sport volunteering. It recognises that volunteering enriches the life of the volunteer and not just the participants whose sport activity is facilitated – “the double benefit of sport volunteering”. The Government wants to encourage sport and physical activity volunteering for its own sake and the strategy includes a case study on volunteering at parkrun, recognising that …..

parkrun has established a new model for community sport volunteering which puts the volunteer centre stage.

This case study makes me punch the air because it fits with what I have been getting excited about for years, see It’s an honour to volunteer for parkrun and parkrun volunteers get cold fingers and toes and a warm feeling inside.

Volunteers in high vis jackets being briefed ready to help at a parkrun

The strategy also recognises the importance of recruiting, retaining and rewarding volunteers who are representative of the entire population. It mentions a better online system for brokering sport volunteering opportunities (Consortium takes over Join In) and I am optimistic that it also means more recognition of the skills needed for volunteer management.

In response to Sporting Future, Sport England published its Volunteering Strategy in December 2016: Volunteering in an active nation. I had an opportunity to contribute ideas to this strategy and this is what I said:

My ideas on what works well for managing volunteers:

  • Focus on positives and benefits that volunteers gain by their actions; avoid talking about volunteering in terms of “giving up”, “making sacrifices” etc
  • Look after them as real people and manage them professionally
  • Simplify and standardise the processes for people to offer to volunteer – parkrun is great example
  • Value volunteer management and help people do it well
  • Celebrate the achievements of volunteers
  • Break traditional volunteer roles into chunks; encourage job-sharing

My ideas on volunteering by under-represented groups and young people

  • Nationally lots of youth organisations are focussing on mental health and there is big opportunity to improve wellbeing and raise aspirations through volunteering and/or youth social action
  • Effective work with under-represented groups needs partners on the ground who have prior relationships with the target volunteers
  • Activities need to be done with young people not done to young people
  • Best to offer a mix of activities, and to locate the volunteering in the communities as lack of transport is a barrier
  • To focus on physical activities rather than sport coaching we need people who empathise with beginners rather than coaches who want to develop elite players – need more organisers and activators
  • Empower and incentivise younger officials/club organisers. Help clubs welcome young energy and ideas that are often obstructed by an ageing, dogmatic workforce (easy to say, hard to do)

Where are we now?

  • Sport England has two funds supporting volunteering: The Opportunity Fund (targets people, aged 20+, from economically disadvantaged communities) and The Potentials Fund (targets children and young people aged 10 to 20, with a particular focus on 10-14 year-olds, who are interested in doing something to benefit their community, through social action.) Expressions of interest in the first round of these funds are now closed. See Volunteer Funding Investment Guide for more information. Sport England is making up to £26 million over 4 years available to support implementation of their Volunteering in an active nation strategy.
  • You can find a volunteering opportunity or post your volunteering opportunities on Join In
  • Sport England gives some very useful advice for volunteer managers here: Volunteering explained
  • The first Annual Report on Sporting Future was published in February this year.

The first Annual Report on Sporting Future

This 40-page report has a succinct and positive message for the future of sport volunteering. Copied below.

“Volunteering

4.32 Sporting Future takes a new approach to volunteering, recognising the positive impact it has on volunteers themselves as well as the benefits to sports and the importance of recruiting, retaining and rewarding volunteers who are representative of the entire population.

A new volunteering strategy

4.33. Sport England published its new volunteering strategy on 1 December 2016. The strategy’s objectives are to:

  • ensure better quality, meaningful volunteering experiences
  • increase the diversity of those who volunteer in sport and activity
  • increase the number of volunteers in sport and activity

Sport England is making up to £26 million over 4 years available to support implementation of this strategy.

Information about volunteering opportunities

4.34 In its volunteering strategy Sport England recognises and promotes the crucial role that digital communications can play as an enabler to increase the number and diversity of sport volunteers. As this strategy is implemented in 2017 and beyond Sport England will consider how it can best support the use of digital technology in sport volunteering.

Employee volunteering

4.35 Sport England will work with other agencies to increase the number of sport and physical activity volunteering opportunities that can be taken up by employees.

Rewards for volunteers

4.36 A joint Sport England/UK Sport review shows that national governing bodies generally engage regular volunteers from the grassroots as volunteers at major events they are hosting. UK Sport will encourage this practice to continue through its application and award process for major events funding. Support for national governing bodies on this is covered in Sport England’s volunteering strategy and both UK Sport and Sport England will be sharing best practice.”

The future

I am waiting with interest to see the outcome of the first Sport England Funding round and to see what types of projects were funded and which partners Sport England chose to work with. This will help us all understand funding priorities for subsequent rounds.

I am also eagerly awaiting developments with the new Join In Consortium under the Sport and Recreation Alliance and I really hope that we get good volunteer brokering functionality that really does “make sport and recreation volunteering more representative and accessible”. The parkrun volunteer system works, and has worked well for years. It is simple and enables participants to put their hand up for a specific job on a specific day and for local teams to manage their own volunteer roster. If you are not familiar with parkrun, you can see how it works here: volunteer at Guildford junior parkrun.

From Runner to Run Director – a Volunteer’s Journey

The school field is an ocean of bodies, bobbing and stretching. Weathered sinewy adults and bouncy excited children. Is this what 750 people look like? I’m as nervous as they are. More nervous. I’m the reason they are all here. The sun is shining and it is the Saturday before the London Marathon in April 2007.

Two years earlier, the High Street was closed and we were all standing in the middle of the road. My tummy was fluttering and my limbs were chilly. “I’ll start near the back of the pack as I’ve never done this before.” I told myself that no-one was looking at me in that crowd. Me, in my unfashionably baggy shorts – all the other ladies seemed to be wearing lycra. The smell all around of deep heat had cleared my nose and was now nauseating me. We started to squash forward in anticipation even thought nothing had happened. And then muffled words spewed out of a megaphone and we were off.

The ocean of people is lapping round me and asking me questions “Where’s the start?” “When’s the briefing?” I’m drowning! I seem to be the only fluorescent bib on the field and they are closing in on me. And my marshals, nervous too, are phoning me in relays to tell me they are ready out on the course. I glance at my watch and scan my plan, pages going crinkly in my sweaty hand. I need to get out to the start area. The start is prepared and here comes the flood of bodies, warmed up, briefed and raring to go.

“Start slow,” was my mantra. And I did. Before long there was just me and a couple of old biddies wearing running club vests and they were having a good chat about their holidays. A high-vis marshal at the first big junction stopped the traffic for me “Well done love, keep going and you’ll get a personal best today!”

“Three, two, one, go” and the 10k runners surge past in a long stream and the 4k runners drift up to the line. Keen teenagers, a sea of blue race t-shirts, in the front row; unfit mums and dads, running for the cause, linger at the back.

The lady in front of me had flapping laces; she stopped to tie them and I overtook her. After about 8k I felt a bit wobbly and walked a few paces but that felt worse. The marshals all smiled and cheered me on. They knew I was one of the last and I needed encouraging. And they knew they had nearly finished their jobs and could go home soon.

I feel relief as the starts pass without incident or drama. But in less than 20 minutes the 4k runners will be finishing and I need to make sure it’s all set up. The funnel of red and white tape leads the runners past computer timing to medals, a bonanza of goody bags and a forest of bananas.  Another flight of marshals is standing by ready for the tidal wave of finishers. Meanwhile, the younger children’s fun runs are rolling along on the running track. I can hear the PA system echoing around the field as the little athletes collect their prizes.

My final 500m felt good although I had to push my way past early finishers walking home. I felt tearfully euphoric as a finishing marshal urged me across the line before the clock ticked on another minute. Someone thrust a bottle of sports drink in my hand and I downed it in one.

It’s high tide on the school field again. My ocean of faces is smiling now. They are finding their friends and family, comparing their times and telling their stories. Waves of clapping are crashing all around me and I’m beginning to rise on the positive vibes. The marshals are drifting back, and I’m hugged and hand-shaken. They tell tales of grateful runners and a morning well spent. They bring back the luminous flotsam of signs and bibs, netted with red and white tape.

I’d done my first 10k. I hadn’t trained for it – I didn’t even know about training. My result was a triumph of determination over preparation. It hurt for 9.5k but I wanted to do another one. I also knew that the marshals had done more than show me the way – they had got me round.

My marshal’s pile of flotsam grows as the runners and helpers disappear – quickly like the tide ebbing over a flat sandy beach. Six months of risk assessments and planning meetings, e-mails and talks with the aristocratic landowner to set this up: and the races were all over in a splash. It’s just two years since I’d run my first race, and today I’d organised one – a 10k, a 4k and a fun run. I’d brought together a team of 75 to make it work – and 750 people had gone home having had a good time. I was running on top of the world.

Consortium takes over Join In

Join in, the Olympic legacy volunteering project is in new hands. I’m interested, and excited to see that the consortium led by the Sport and Recreation Alliance includes the Do-it Trust – the recently revamped volunteer matching site, Volunteering Matters, Jump and VolunteerKinetic – a web-based volunteer management system. Having worked with several of these organisations I am quite optimistic for the future of sport volunteering.

For more information see ivo article.

Two great toolkits to copy

Here are some really useful resources that will help anyone managing volunteers for a club, an organisation or an event. They have been produced by large, reputable bodies and are freely available. So take a look, and start editing and adapting what helps you.

Adult Volunteer Management Toolkit from the DofE

The Duke of Edinburgh Award is the phenomenally successful scheme that challenges young people to learn skills, volunteer and embark on an expedition. The charity, which is celebrating it’s diamond anniversary this year, has transformed the lives of 2 million young people since it started 60 years ago.

Graphic showing 2 million young people have achieved their DofE

2016 is Diamond Challenge year https://dofediamondchallenge.org/

This toolkit is for adult volunteers who support organisations that are delivering DofE awards  – not to be confused with guidelines that are given to young people taking the award. The toolkit is mega! It has every template you could ever need, it’s downloadable and it’s just been updated. So if you are looking for good practice to copy – applications forms, interview questions, induction checklists plus guidelines to help you write your volunteer policy and handbook – it is all here. In fact it has 23 document templates that you might need for managing volunteers. It is a gem. Thank you DofE for doing such a great job.

Download the toolkit here: http://www.dofe.info/go/adultvolunteers/

Volunteer toolkit from England Athletics

Image of booklets that make up the toolkit

England Athletics Volunteer toolkit is aimed at clubs

This helpful resource separates into sections focusing on recruiting, retaining and rewarding volunteers in a club environment. It also has a useful list of volunteer role descriptions and some editable posters to advertise volunteer opportunities.

Download the toolkit here: http://www.englandathletics.org/volunteer/volunteer-toolkit

 

How do you manage a mix of volunteers?

So you’ve worked hard recruiting volunteers for your big sports event. You’ve got local people engaged, maybe some volunteers who have helped at other big events, and you’ve got the regular bunch of helpers who know your sport inside out. How do you throw all of these people at an event and make sure it works? How do you manage a mix of volunteers with different backgrounds and experiences? This is how we did it at the World Orienteering Championships held in Scotland in  2015.

We appointed Team Leaders to manage specific functions. Some of these Leaders were sport specialists and others had specific technical skills. Each of these “Functional Team Leaders” managed a strand of the event delivery. They knew their function in detail and they were supported by the Volunteer Management Team who took care of all generic volunteer administration and communications. Here is how the Volunteer Management Team confirmed the process and responsibilities with the Functional Team Leaders:

Functional team leaders responsibilities for volunteers Functional team leaders responsibilities for volunteers2 Functional team leaders responsibilities for volunteers3

Proud

Last weekend, we celebrated my 100th run at Guildford parkrun. And somebody hummed this tune.

The build up to my 100 started with She’s the girl!!!!. And in the briefing, the Event Director informed 320 runners that they were all shivering in Stoke Park on a bitterly cold February day because of me. Because four years ago I helped set up Guildford parkrun. He joked that it had taken me four whole years to reach my century milestone – and hinted at my lack of commitment, and then revealed that it had taken so long because I had volunteered nearly 100 times too.

I’m pleased that I’ve earned a coveted black 100 T-shirt. Although plenty of runners have done it before me. In fact, at the time of writing, there are 13526 other runners in the parkrun “100 club“.

100 parkrun

I’m far more proud of my volunteering T-shirt and the part I have played in Guildford parkrun. Nothing beats the feeling that we’ve started something that will carry on – every week – free – and organised by volunteers.

And I know the current Event Directors are proud of our event and our parkrun community. Even the Council are proud of our parkrun. It made the front cover of the Guildford Sport Development Strategy.

This weekend I found out just how many people are proud of our 5k run in the park.

For all the volunteers, the core team and especially the present Event Directors, this is for us. Hum a little tune.

It’s a World Champs, we’ll need 100s of volunteers, and it’s 500 miles away….

“Congratulations to the organisers and army of volunteers who helped make this happen” Dougie Vipond, The Adventure Show, BBC2 Scotland.

He was referring to the Event Team of 700 volunteers who have just delivered a Home World Orienteering Championships. A Team that was put together specially for this complex, week-long event that was broadcast live on TV. It was also held in parallel with the biggest ever Scottish 6-days making this the biggest and highest profile orienteering event ever staged in the UK.

It was a good year for Denmark, Ida Bobach World Champion at the finish of the Long Race in Glen Affric. Courtesy Liveblog http://www.woc2015.org/liveblog/long

It was a good year for Denmark, Ida Bobach World Champion at the finish of the Long Race in Glen Affric. Courtesy Liveblog

The Challenge

In May 2012, British Orienteering’s Dave Peel, recruited me into the post of WOC2015 Volunteer Manager, as a volunteer, because he could see that the team needed experience from other major sports events. My brief: Recruit a workforce to deliver the World Championship and support the Scottish 6 Days in a remote part of the UK using volunteers from outside of Scotland, and ensure that most of the orienteering volunteers can take part in most of the 6-Days.

My induction came at WOC2012 in Switzerland. Here I learnt about silent starts and sponsors, quarantines and TV demands and strict International Federation Protocols that govern a World Championships. The London Olympics came soon after WOC, and my role as a Team Leader in the Aquatic Centre was a welcome inspiration.

Recruit

We started by defining roles, identifying what could be done by people without orienteering experience, and recruiting and selecting the right people for different jobs. We had to develop our own recruitment and communication systems and I am grateful to Paul Frost, the SOA Web Developer, who helped me build a very effective volunteer recruitment website which was integrated with MailChimp for our sign-up and communication systems. I also promoted opportunities on the Volunteer Scotland website which enabled us to attract Commonwealth Games volunteers.

Of the volunteers, 120 came from outside of the sport of orienteering to do roles like sprint control marshalling, minibus driving and arena building. 580 were orienteers from all over the UK and Europe.

Volunteers came from orienteering clubs all over the UK and beyond, from local running clubs and parkrun, Volunteer Scotland, Glasgow 2014 and all of the organisations shown above

Volunteers came from orienteering clubs all over the UK and beyond, from local running clubs and parkrun, Volunteer Scotland, Glasgow 2014 and all of the organisations shown above

Prepare

Everyone needed to understand the scale of the World Champs and the orienteers needed to see how it differed from regular multi-day events.  As nothing existed, we developed our own induction and training resources including videos from footage we’d recorded at previous WOCs. We wrote comprehensive briefing instructions for control marshals to make sure they didn’t jeopardise the integrity of a sprint race. We also produced safety and social media guidelines.

My team did some clever stuff with MailChimp to produce team and key contacts lists, and to send tailored, personalized messages to each volunteer, reminding them of their team and role and including relevant inductions. These tailored communications helped us achieve a 100% turnout of volunteers on the day.

Crowds getting ready to watch the Relay in front of Darnaway Castle, Moray

Crowds getting ready to watch the Relay in front of Darnaway Castle, Moray

Support

All of the Event Team needed uniforms, photo accreditation passes and lunches – a significant undertaking. We also identified some unexpected obstacles which were extra challenges to overcome. Helping volunteers find affordable accommodation – we organised a homestay system. Overseas volunteers needed help with transport – we organised lift-sharing. Preparing non-orienteers for the vital role of sprint control guarding – we held a marshal training evening for local volunteers and it was a packed house. We worked closely with the 6-days to ensure that orienteers could have start times that were compatible with their WOC jobs. And there was one challenge that defeated us right until the end – providing helpful travel instructions to volunteers without breaking strict embargo rules of orienteering which keep map and location details strictly confidential until days before the event.

Reflections

Minority sports can benefit from volunteers that are not involved in their sport. For orienteering, volunteers such as local runners, D of E students, and increasingly “Event Volunteer Tourists” can help at big events. And there are well established routes to recruiting them – like www.joininuk.org #BigHelpOut. But it takes an investment in time and the right people to recruit and support these volunteers. When working with volunteers who are not normally part of our specific sport’s culture we mustn’t forget to really look after them – tell them what to bring, train them and give them lunch.

A little bit of legacy

We worked with the Scottish Club Development Officers to offer all the local volunteers – many members of running clubs who had been sprint control marshals – a free entry into events organised by local clubs Moravian, INVOC and BASOC following WOC2015. This was both a thank you and a chance for the volunteers to try the sport that they had seen so closely, for themselves.

Acknowledgements

To all of the individuals and clubs who worked hard in the lead up and during WOC2015:

Thank you and we hope that you were proud to be involved in the biggest and highest profile orienteering event ever held in the UK.

To Paul McGreal, Event Director who skilfully and calmly managed a very complex event – it was a pleasure working with you Paul. I believe that we benefited hugely from Paul’s leadership and his experience as ED for Celtman and World Duathlon Champs.

The heart of my volunteer management team

The heart of my volunteer management team

I’d also like to slip in a special thank you to my own team of 12, and in particular David Maliphant – Comms; Ann Haley – Data; Terry Williams – Newsletters; Craig Lowther – training.  We Skyped every fortnight in the 18 months leading up to WOC and only met for the first time in Nairn.

Postscript Focus Chief Exec's words

This post was published in part in “Orienteering Focus, The Official Voice of British Orienteering” in the Autumn/Winter 2015 Edition

Sports event generated £9.4m for local economy

The World Orienteering Championships, together with the Scottish 6-days “spectator races”, were held in Moray and Highlands regions of Scotland this summer with the Event Centred in Inverness. The VisitScotland Economic impact study has just been published and reports that these orienteering events, in which more than 8000 athletes took part, generated £9.4m for the Scottish economy. Guest houses, restaurants and shops among the businesses most to benefit. See BBC News Scotland piece here: Orienteering events ‘boosted Scotland’s economy’

This boost to the economy could not have happened without a massive amount of volunteering. All together around 1500 volunteers were involved in planning and delivering these events. The Scottish 6-days is staged every two years by the members of the orienteering clubs in Scotland. Hence the The World Championships, held concurrently, needed to look further afield to fill its “Event Team” of volunteers. The chart below shows where these people came from to stage this World Class event in Moray and Highlands.

WOC2015 Volunteers came from v2

Almost a third of the World Championships volunteers came from Scotland. More than half of these volunteers from Scotland came in the form of local runners, experienced in organising running races, who wanted to help stage a World Class event on their doorstep. Members of the Technical team were also local as they needed to make regular visits to the orienteering areas to plan the courses. The Event Team also included Commonwealth Games Clydesiders who had enjoyed their part in Glasgow 2014 and wanted more – bringing valuable experience of high-profile sports events to WOC2015. The majority, 65%, of the volunteers came from England and Wales, with most, but not all, being club orienteers. We even had volunteers coming from further afield including Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.

The World Orienteering Championships was a successful, high profile event, shown on live TV, that received great feedback from top athletes. We now know that it also had a positive impact on the local economy.

On behalf of British Orienteering, The Scottish Orienteering Association and all the athletes that competed, I would like to say a sincere thank you to all the volunteers that made these events happen. Thank you to the Clydesiders, the locals, the runners, the club orienteers, the Duke of Edinburgh students, and everybody involved. You signed up to support the event because it was local or it was your sport, and maybe becuase it sounded exciting, but we didn’t imagine that collectively us volunteers would contribute so much to the local economy.

Marshal photo

All things to all people – just not at once

As the Volunteer Manager of a big sports event, you might imagine that I get quite a few e-mails. Want to know what I do with them?

I give top priority to messages from……

  • people who are offering to volunteer – they only have me as a point of contact and they deserve to hear from us promptly
  • my own team who are developing and operating our volunteer management processes – I really want to support them and if I hold them up then everything slows down
  • those above me – the Event Directors – they have so much going on, they need their reports to jump when they say jump.

If you are none of the above, and you have contacted me, I will come back to you as soon as I can. I’m a volunteer, and I’m fitting all of this into my spare time.