Inaugural Sporting Heritage Awards

I had the pleasure of speaking to Justine Reilly of Sporting Heritage recently. I’ve got to be honest; it was really difficult to trim this post down to an acceptable length – because we just caught up in the enthusiasm of talking all things sport and heritage! I may well have to do a follow-up post! Justine is the driving force behind Sporting Heritage and in this article, she explains very eloquently, what Sporting Heritage does and why!


What does Sporting Heritage do?

We preserve, protect, collect, share, and celebrate sporting heritage. We have lots of different mechanisms in place to do this; things like National Sporting Heritage Day, which is a major annual campaign that we run, delivered largely virtually, partly because of COVID but partly because it’s a really good way of raising awareness.


We have a 3-year project that finishes this year focusing on women’s and disability sport – where are those collections? How do we know where they are? How do we know how we can support the people looking after them? How can we help governing bodies get involved and understand why these collections are important? How can we get clubs to understand and involve people at local levels?  These are some of the challenges we face!


Then we do things like scoping collections; understanding where collections are, putting them on our database online so that everyone can go and see where they are, and what kind of things exist, which helps to build a national picture of collections.


We have done a lot of work recently on black, Asian ethnic minority community sport. How do those collections tell those stories? Why are they not in the public domain more freely? We also do podcasts as well, where we film and share them


How did it start?

I used to work in the museums and heritage sector, largely looking at how to change the audiences. Heritage is traditionally quite exclusive, lots of work has been done on trying to change that. My roles were always around audience development and education and bringing new and different people into services or going out and working with them.


I’ve worked at Liverpool Museums, Media Museum, Bradford, and then worked for BBC in an overarching Yorkshire programme. Then I had kids and decided that I wanted to work differently!


I had been working with universities more and more and thinking, I don’t really get it, I need to understand more about what they’re doing.


It was just a perfect time and I saw a PhD advertised that was about sport, museums and cultural policy; I loved sport, have always loved sports since I was little either playing or watching.  It made me think that we don’t do lots of sport within the cultural sector within museums, archives and heritage generally and it made me think that it would be a great way of shifting what’s happening, so I did my PhD!


I realised there’s a massive gap, no one was looking at these collections, supporting them, helping them on a national scale and so I set up Sporting Heritage as a result.  This happened around the time of the Olympics as well and so that was the impetus for it really, kind of recognising that there was a massive opportunity for these collections that were largely held outside of formal heritage sectors, but told so many diverse, ignored and hidden stories.  It was just a travesty that they needed to be understood, shared, looked after, supported so their stories could be told.  It is just like seeing so many stories missed, the record was, and still is, largely white able bodied elite straight men.  Although it’s shifting and changing, it’s nowhere near enough.


We received some funding from Heritage Lottery, a resilience grant to start putting governance in place.  This was a massive learning curve because although I’d managed budgets before, it was always for other organisations and although I had some knowledge from being self-employed, but by setting up as a CIC I had essentially become a finance director and I didn’t know how to do any of that stuff which scared me quite a lot!


I got some brilliant support from different organisations who really helped us along the way and provided some mentoring.


The sector itself has also been supportive. When I first started, I was mainly working the big sports museums, like Lords and the National Football Museum. They are so important, and really, really crucial parts of this sector, but they are not all there is out there. There is so much activity happening on the ground, in local villages and towns with people who are collecting this stuff, because it’s important to them and they know if they don’t do it, no one else will.


The Sporting Heritage Awards are a really exciting development!  They were set up to showcase the collections that exist and the people that look after them and share them.  There are 8 categories, and they are awards that require nominations.


Anyone can nominate either a person or an organisation and it is free to enter.


Nominations are open until the 18th of March 2022, and we are trying to encourage as many different people as possible to take part – nominations are made via a really straightforward form that really doesn’t take very long.


There will be a celebration event on the 28th of April, at Leeds City Museums where the judging panel will be reviewing the nominations and deciding on the winners.  The aim is to encourage people to start thinking and being involved as that is crucial for the development and delivery of sport.


Our aim is always to support people to be able to do things for themselves, via training and sharing knowledge.  We have a toolkit which takes you through everything that you need to know about how you develop your heritage, and it takes people through from the very beginning of the process so people can move through the levels depending on their experience and knowledge.  We also run free webinars that are available via YouTube. Anyone can access them if they aren’t able to join the live sessions.


We also run our Network Champions Group. That is people who are either in a sports club or are governing body sports specific, who want to develop their heritage. It is made up of different people who might be either a long way down their journey of heritage or may be at the beginning and they come to that group, and then they can share expertise together. We offer specific training that meets their needs – it’s a bespoke training programme built around the areas they identify.


The toolkit can also help look at specific areas of a heritage project, by focusing on certain sections such as fundraising, how to set up an inventory for a collection and other system procedures.  We are also working on developing this into an e-learning platform to give people accreditation when they complete sections.


How can Sporting Heritage help schools to delivery their curriculum?

Sporting Heritage links across the curriculum, so if you use a local sporting hero or a local sports club, you can start to delve back into ‘who was this person’, ‘what did they do’ and ‘where did they come from’?  It might not be a very famous person, it might be the person who set up the local Cricket Club or someone else within the community, but schools can use that as a basis to deliver lessons across the curriculum; using it to start creative writing or other literacy based projects but then it can cross into Maths – how big was the sports ground then, how big is it now?  Then it obviously covers a lot of History and includes Geography as well.


There are a variety of educational resources available on our website


What can people do to support Sporting Heritage?

The first thing is for people to have that real understanding of why these collections are valuable and I don’t mean valuable in a monetary way, but the stories that they tell.  Understanding what is locally important to them in terms of stories, and where does that fit with their community.   When people are thinking about that, they are preserving the stories in the collections for the future.


The second thing is funding and finance. It is really, really difficult, because we have no core funding at all. Everything that comes in is either donations or project funding. If we don’t have funding, we can’t support anybody else to be able to deliver what they are doing.


For people to become a member is a massive help and it isn’t a huge amount that we ask for, but it helps us to be able to demonstrate to the funders why we are important as through the membership we can demonstrate that people are investing in us. The membership funds help us in terms of long-term resilience, knowing we have got that funding and support and it also helps with just being able to identify areas where we might not be gaining membership and exploring this further through consultation and asking sectors those questions.


What top tips can you offer to anyone hoping to set up a not-for-profit organisation?

That’s a question!

  1. Understanding your audience is absolutely essential – that is the biggest thing that has grown us because we have always understood what isn’t working, why isn’t it working? And then being able to go back and think, what do we fill that gap with?


  1. Be happy to share and learn! There are times where you have to recognise that you can’t do everything, it isn’t practical.  So, be comfortable and confident that you are getting the right people on board to work with you – it is amazing having people you know you can trust working alongside you, who may have different skills to bring to the organisation.


To contact Justine or to find out more about Sporting Heritage head to their website – you’ll find all their social media links on the site banner and all the different and varies ways you can get involved on their advice page.

Straight Forward Funding Newsletter

For grant funding information straight to your inbox, sign up here. Just enter your details below, and remember to verify your subscription!! It’s completely free, and you can unsubscribe at any time!