Supporting participants to engage back into society as lock-downs ease

 Comic Relief and the Mayor of London launched the London Together fund in 2018, investing in sport for change approaches that aim to improve social integration in London, with a focus on reducing social isolation and strengthening relationships between and within communities.

Organisations funded through the London Together fund meet online regularly to take part in the bespoke impact measurement and management webinars facilitated by Comic Relief and inFocus. The webinars are participatory and collaborative, and offer a platform for organisations to share their work, ideas, learnings and more.

Credit: Anthony Tran Unsplash

At the most recent roundtable, organisations were asked to think about topics or themes they’d be most interested in covering in upcoming webinars. The suggested ideas were collated and grouped into questions, and the organisations then voted for the questions they most wanted to cover. The top three were:

  1. –   How can we support participants to engage back into society (and London Together projects) as lock-downs ease?

  • –   What steps can we take to make sport and physical activity more inclusive and accessible? (e.g. addressing culture and gender barriers, how to reach under-represented groups – disabled people, LGBTQ+, diverse ethnic communities, those digitally excluded)

  • –   How could we involve participants more actively in the monitoring and evaluation of a project?

As the first question is time-bound and relevant now as restrictions are easing, it’ll be the first subject we cover in our upcoming webinar on the 30th June.

We’ll be sure to update our news section to share key takeaways of the webinar, but for now, why not read the below blog which covers highlights from the London Together 2020 annual review webinar?

Since COVID and its impact on grantees was a key theme, it links nicely to the upcoming webinar “How can we support participants to engage back into society (and London Together projects) as lock-downs ease?”.

London Together grantees and key learnings from 2020

In December, the organisations funded through London Together to date met virtually in an Annual Review Webinar – to reflect upon and share their work and learnings from what was an extremely challenging year.

It was by no means an easy task for the organisations – how can you use sport as a vehicle for change, when, abiding by social distancing rules, people were not really able to physically engage in sport?

Undeterred, London Together grantees adapted to the times. Their work was needed now more than ever – particularly in reducing social isolation.

Technology became a key part of communication and in delivering improvised programmes, and with it, came unexpected advantages. We’ve included below just a few of the great learnings shared by grantees during the webinar that we’re sure could be useful in 2021 and beyond.

“Online, it’s a bit of a different dynamic…”

Jay Jadeja from Football for Peace said that they would usually organise workshops partnered with training sessions in-person; using football as a vehicle to bring together young people from different backgrounds, build trust and relationships, build leadership skills and to engage the wider community. With lockdown, Football for Peace had to adapt the workshops to take place online, “using the principles of football and the principles of team sports, in terms of how it can build relationships within groups”.

He discussed that there were unexpected changes to the dynamics in the groups, with some of the less confident personalities shining through and coming forward in an online environment, “maybe because they’re not in a face-to-face proximity of the more confident participants.”

“[…] logistically we were able to engage a few more of the professional footballers to deliver our sessions […]”

Jay added, “Another positive for us with the online environment […] logistically we were able to engage a few more of the professional footballers to deliver our sessions, which was very positive for us and the young people to engage with such role models.”

“Zoom strengthened relationships with partner organisations.”

Lucy Bingham from the Holloway Neighbourhood Group also noted the logistic benefits of meeting online: “Partner organisations spent more time talking to each other, it was easier to arrange to get a group of six different agencies together in a Zoom meeting than it was to get everyone physically in one place, face-to-face.”

She also noted a higher attendance in lockdown – people were eager to socialise and so seemed more likely to join sessions. As a result, she said, “We have learnt more about each other’s services; increased the referrals between each other’s services; learnt from each other’s experiences, knowledge and good practice; and been there to support each other during a difficult and busy year.”

“We have made improvements to our communication […] we have significantly reduced social isolation.”

Laura Jane Connolly from Core Arts said that as a result of the pandemic, they had to adapt from being “face-to-face and centre based, to an online service”.

Zoom became a key part of this online service, providing a new platform for Core Arts to run their creative classes, but also to provide weekly pub quizzes, Club Core Gigs and other social gatherings. WhatsApp too became a platform for peer groups (safeguarded and monitored) to keep in touch and reduce loneliness during lockdown.

“We have made improvements to our communication, by developing how-to pictorial guides and adapting to individual needs for communication – Text, WhatsApp, Phone call, Email, Social Media, face-to-face and postal.”

Technology has supported Core Arts in “significantly reduced isolation and loneliness” she says.

“Some young Londoners prefer you to call them, some prefer you to just message on WhatsApp and some prefer to just engage with the weekly Zoom sessions.”

Ryan Jones at The Change Foundation said, “part of our programme involves running weekly sport and mentoring sessions for young adults, age 18-25, with learning disabilities. Before lockdown we were delivering these sessions in person, but we have been proud to have developed an online offer during lockdown.”

“One of our priorities was checking-in individually with each of our young people every week. The most important factor was understanding each young Londoners needs, as everyone is at a different stage in their journey. Some young Londoners prefer more group-based communications and some more individualised, so it is important to understand each young Londoner […] Some prefer you to call them, some prefer you to just message on WhatsApp and some prefer to just engage with the weekly Zoom sessions.”

To recap some of the learnings shared:

  • –   It’s often easier logistically to organise people to meet online than it is to meet in-person, and this convenience could boost attendance levels. And potentially open up doors too… An example being securing celebrity and influencer involvement – like how Football for Peace found more professional footballers could offer their time online than in-person. Many organisations plan to use a combination of online and in-person to deliver their programmes going forward.

  • –   There are plenty of platforms to consider to communicate with your beneficiaries in addition to/instead of meeting in-person, each platform offering varying pros that can assist in tackling social isolation and supporting social integration.

  • –   Whether online or offline – different communication styles suit different individuals and understanding your beneficiaries’ needs is key. When delivering your programmes, some communication platforms will support individuals better than others and it could be worthwhile considering a case-by-case approach.

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