Hot on the heels of their 20th Anniversary celebrations, this week the Youth Sport Trust has released their latest research on volunteering, based on a YouGov survey of 1021 disabled adults.

Spirit of 2012 is a partner of the Youth Sport Trust, funding them to deliver Inclusive Futures, a leadership and volunteering initiative for young people that brings together disabled and non-disabled volunteers to train, lead sporting activities and support major events like National Paralympic Day and the Sainsbury’s School Games together. Spirit believes that as well as tackling the barriers that make it more difficult for disabled people to volunteer – lack of access, poor facilities, and lack of knowledge about opportunities – a real shift in empowerment and positive perceptions can occur when disabled and non-disabled people are given the opportunity to volunteer alongside each other, in an equal environment.

Over half (58%) of the disabled people surveyed in this study reported that they think they could develop a sense of belonging in their community through volunteering, but more than half (63%) felt there are fewer opportunities for disabled people to volunteer in sport than for non-disabled people. More pertinently, 90% reported a belief that there are many barriers preventing people with disabilities from volunteering at sporting events, such as poor facilities. In addition to the physical barriers there’s also the attitudinal barriers that disabled people face – how can a deaf young person guide people to their seats or support event officials with equipment?

The recent Join In Trust report ‘Hidden Diamonds’ showed that volunteers in sport are the largest single group of volunteers (making up one fifth of the 15m regular volunteers in the UK). Volunteers make sport possible, from organising and laundering kit at community activities to driving minibuses for competitive clubs, from coaching and cheering school teams to supporting all the services that play a vital part in developing future Olympians and Paralympians. Volunteering in sport can have a huge impact on individuals and communities. There’s a very real sense of equality in volunteering – mucking in, getting a job done and having fun because you want to help other people. Join In’s research showed that volunteers in sport are also more likely to feel part of, and feel pride and trust, in their community, and have higher levels of personal wellbeing and happiness. And whilst volunteering is not a substitute for paid work it can be a route into skills development and increased confidence and one that ultimately leads to paid employment.

We are proud to support the Youth Sport Trust in showing the very real opportunities that can come from inclusive volunteering. By the end of the programme, 1,000 newly-trained volunteers will have led sporting activities for over 10,000 participants. That is a wonderful achievement for Spirit of 2012, as it contributes to our commitment to making sure there are more and more high quality volunteering opportunities that bring disabled and non-disabled people together, and not just in sport. Two examples are our funded projects with British Red Cross (Inspired Action) and Voluntary Arts Network which also provide volunteering training and opportunities for disabled and non-disabled people.

We’re delighted with what our funding is achieving, but we want to do even more to drive this important agenda. In 2015, Spirit will set a challenge to the providers of opportunities in volunteering – in sport and beyond – to offer genuinely inclusive opportunities. When we advertise grant funding opportunities in the future this will be a key criterion for grant award applications, and an integral part of how we will measure the success of the project.

I’ll leave the final word to Carmel Elliott, one of the hard working and very capable Inclusive Futures volunteers at National Paralympic Day 2014:

I was lucky enough to have been given the chance to volunteer at National Paralympic day. It was an amazing day and I had a lot of fun. I was very pleased with how the day went and I’m hoping that we managed to encourage more people to take part.