Maximising opportunities and tackling inequalities by listening to the voices of sports participants from potentially marginalised groups.

Project Brief

Aims and objectives

In line with the Sport England 10 year strategy – ‘Uniting the Movement’ – this project sets out to gather the views of those people who participate in sports and activities and who belong to a potentially marginalised group.  This may be on the grounds of age, disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation or any other ‘protected characteristic’ that may result in potential marginalisation and inequalities in opportunity or treatment.

In particular, we will seek the perspectives of individuals and groups taking part in sports and activities, with regard to their safety and well-being when engaging in their chosen sport or activity.  The focus will be on those participating in sports and activities and those who support them to do so, rather than staff organising groups (though potentially a participant may also be a ‘lay’ organiser too, and we would wish to hear their views).

Please note: there is no assumption that people are marginalised or that they feel so; simply that there is a potential for diverse characteristics to marginalise some individuals and this may impact sporting opportunities, desires and aspirations, resulting in inequalities.

Key Areas of enquiry

  • We will seek views and collate information in the following areas:
  • What does it mean to them to keep safe and well whilst participating in sports/activities and whose responsibility is it? What sorts of things might be involved in keeping people safe and well?
  • Would they know what to do if they, or other people taking part, felt unsafe or in some way ‘at risk’ and what would they do?
  • Do they have examples of good practice in keeping people safe and well whilst taking part in sports and activities? Do they know of examples of poor practice?
  • What could be done to improve safety and well-being, either generally or specifically for their particular sport or activity?
  • Do they have anything to say that we’ve not asked about?

Project Activities and Engagement


The project team partnered up recently with Age UK, Bolton in an event for participants, allowing for a frank discussion about what was known about safety and well-being among participants themselves. Charlotte Gilmartin (ex-elite speed-skater, Team GB) spoke about her experiences at the Olympics, her medals and also safeguarding matters that has impacted her sporting life, as a means of introducing safeguarding to event delegates. Participants discussed and answered a range of questions about their experiences of safety and well-being issues.

What was evident from the session was that whilst people had a general idea of safety and looking out for each other, the idea that there should be more formal ‘procedures’ around safety and well-being, was not really something on the radar of participants. Much was
assumed about the leaders of groups knowing these things but not that participants themselves might engage with safety and well-being proactively, as opposed to responding only when something might need remedial action. This in itself was a key finding and something we hope to work to change.

The event itself served as an awareness-raising event whilst also confirming that there is still much to be done to raise awareness about safeguarding among participants of sport and activity groups. Most recently we attended a strength and balance session run by an Active
Partnership to gauge the views of its group members. Again we were grateful for the insights they were able to offer about what they thought safeguarding issues were and also what they would do if something concerned them of a safeguarding nature.

We will be attending future groups too to widen the range of insights from people attending these groups. As well as working with older groups currently we are extending our reach to those with physical and learning disabilities and have talked with a group representing
Special Olympics athletes to gain insights not only from participants of varying ages and abilities but also at the elite end of sport.

Meet The Team

Nicola Dean

Nicola’s post is funded by Sport England and was the first of its kind in the UK. Key priorities are reviewing and developing services in relation to risk in sport and identifying, planning and implementing new initiatives in line with current practice. In addition, Nicola develops and delivers a training strategy, offers advice and information to sport and activity organisations and represents the sector at key consultations nationally.

In her spare time Nicola is a ski buddy for adults with learning disabilities and has seen some of the benefits and challenges facing adults at risk taking part in sport.

Charlotte Upcott (formerly Gilmartin)

Charlotte Upcott (formerly Gilmartin) is the Participation Project’s ‘expert by experience’. She is a European Champion, World Cup Medalist and two time Olympian, speed skater. She represented Team GB for 13 years and during that time became aware of a range of potential safeguarding matters. Having lived through the athlete lifestyle and having overcome the challenges that accompany high level competition, she is passionate about giving back and helping others to find support, enjoyment and reach their potential through sport at whatever level they engage.

Dr Anne Patterson

Dr Anne Patterson is an experienced researcher with a portfolio of projects in the area of health, social care and safeguarding.

Her research focuses on inequalities in health care, social care and community provision. She’s particularly interested in exploring inequalities of care and opportunity in the context of potentially marginalised groups.

Currently her work is focused on safeguarding in sport; exploring participants’ awareness and experience of engaging in sports and activities – ensuring safety and well-being are talked about.

Tina Thordal

Tina has worked in health and social care services as a nurse, care worker, manager, and trainer.

In 2004 she became a trainer delivering safeguarding awareness to a variety of services, clubs, and organisations.

Since Sept 2018, she has been part of a team and funded by Sport England to research the awareness and understanding of safeguarding within sports clubs.

Her team explores ways in which responses and actions are embedded within the various activity groups. They look for areas where there might be gaps in knowledge or practice.


Book Your Own Participation Group

We can run a short online or in-person participation group for your club or group where we invite participants to have their say about what makes them feel safe and improves their wellbeing.

Book a Participation Group

Book a course or find out more

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