Valleys Gymnastics Academy is a multi-award winning social enterprise that has a membership base of 2200 and delivers a range of high quality gymnastics activities across four local authorities. The club was formed in 2011 through the merger of two smaller community clubs and originally relied wholly on volunteers. Despite the club now employing 35 individuals, volunteers remain the bedrock of the club. We work hard to create a welcoming and rewarding experience for volunteers and work hard to create partnerships with organisations who assist us in recognising the contribution volunteers make at VGA, for example, we have recently introduced a Time Credits system for our Blaenau Gwent volunteers, in partnership with United Welsh Housing Association and Spice Time Credits.
Volunteers at VGA typically come from diverse backgrounds but generally fall into four main groups:
Individuals who have a passion and background in their sport are well placed to make a valuable continuation as a core volunteer at a club (contributing a large number of regular hours) and this is certainly the case at VGA. These individuals typically do not see themselves as ‘volunteers’ – they are ambitious sports coaches who happen to not get paid for their role. However, as the organisation has grown, these individuals have been exceptionally well placed to gain new qualifications / opportunities, remuneration (e.g. expensive training) or paid coaching hours. These individuals are exceptionally loyal and passionate about their sport but they are rare.
Most young leaders at VGA are current or previous participants. By working in partnership with a range of organisations (British Gymnastics, Welsh Gymnastics, Gwirvol, Sport Caerphilly, Inspire) we have developed an attractive offer, which sees young people rewarded for the time they contribute. Young people have used their volunteer hours to also contribute towards Duke of Edinburgh and Welsh Baccalaureate. Young people now recognise that volunteering provides real life workplace experience and the opportunity for personal development – and often a direct route into employment either at VGA or another organisation. By obtaining an official local authority license, we have been able to provide the most committed young people with a small number of coaching hours, aiding retention of young people age 15+ who make a real contribution at VGA.
Whilst some young leaders progress to Higher Education and continue to volunteer at VGA, we are also approached directly by HE students who are required to gain experience or complete voluntary hours as part of their course. These volunteers can be invaluable in terms of providing high quality opportunities and can be viewed as a ‘free workforce.’ However, in addition to the completion of course based requirements, here at VGA we feel that it is important that HE students are rewarded with training and mentoring opportunities in return for the time they give and the impact they have on young people as role models. For example, we provide all student volunteers with free access to the Welsh Gymnastics Leaders qualification (Level 0). Community volunteering can broaden students’ experience (providing opportunities to work with challenging young people, for example, or within a new sport) and help them to develop transferrable skills, which are valued in the modern workplace.
Many of these students have elected to continue volunteering at VGA following the completion of their compulsory hours. For example, one teaching student volunteered at VGA for two years as she recognised the importance of working with children in her journey to becoming a qualified and employed teacher. Another student, who began their journey at VGA as a part of the Cardiff Met student volunteer module back in 2010, is now employed full time within our organisation.
Parents are invaluable resources to VGA, undertaking tasks such as reception cover, shop assistance, refreshments, fundraising and pastoral duties. These parents are on site, waiting while their children participate and enjoy making a contribution to the club. Parent volunteers have reported that ‘making new friends’ is a key motivation for their contribution – as well as supporting the club and assisting in creating a welcoming, supportive environment for other parents and children. VGA have been extremely lucky in attracting a range of enthusiastic and committed parent volunteers, several of whom have gone on to take coaching qualifications – and several are now employed by the club to deliver recreational and squad gymnastics. For many, volunteering with VGA has enabled the development of transferrable skills, which has facilitated re-entry into the workplace following a career break, period of unemployment or change of career. For example, our Head of General Gymnastics was a plumber in a previous life!
- Make new friends / socialise
- Gain work based experience
- Develop new skills
- Gain qualifications and / or mentoring
- Gain certification / recognition
- Enjoyment of the sport
- Give something back to the community (altruism)
- As a route into employment
- Broaden horizons