Evidence sought for inquiry into the cultural value of sport in the North

Nigel Huddleston, Minister for Sport, outlined that sporting heritage is central to the identity of Northern culture and communities, in the launch of the Northern Culture All Party Parliamentary Group inquiry into the cultural value of sport to Northern cities, town and communities.

Sporting Heritage CIC were delighted to be asked to speak at the online event on the 15th July, and make the case for the position of sporting heritage within the inquiry and subsequent research activity. We believe the sector has so much to offer the inquiry and future development for communities and individuals across the North.

Sporting heritage activity delivers a range of cultural, social, economic, and wellbeing, impact measures. At present we estimate this at around £3.4 of value for every £1 invested. And it delivers across Northern Powerhouse, Local Authority, National Government, education, and Public Health objectives.

When a sport’s person wins a medal on TV, almost without exception, they speak about how they were inspired by someone or something from the heritage of their sport – usually at grassroots level, within their local community, and often by someone who was a volunteer giving their time for free. And yet sporting heritage, the basis of these stories, is not valued, or funded, as part of our cultural offer. Why is that?

Well, complex issues of high and low culture has meant that sport has been largely excluded from the formal heritage record – for example it’s often absent in Local Authority museums, in Leeds just down the road from me, a city full of sporting tradition, there’s virtually no sporting heritage. A subject matter so central to northern identity, weaved within our manufacturing, mining, and migrant communities – yet so often kept on the bench in the cultural sphere.

As a result, individuals and communities which cultural heritage venues so wish to attract – both as audiences and within the workforce – continue to be excluded. “Yes we’re about heritage, just not your heritage”.

We know that the story of sport is central to understanding the development of minority communities and cultures in the north, for example Dana Abdulkarim speaks passionately about how she was unable to continue to play football competitively because the wearing of the hijab was not properly supported. These stories are still ignored. Ignored because the link between community and cultural value has not been prioritised or fostered.

And yet as we saw earlier, the impact sporting heritage delivers across public agendas is effortless. Consequently, placing a focus on sporting heritage would have huge, positive implications to the cultural value of the north and the levelling up agenda.

To change this, we need the sporting heritage of the north, or our northern communities, to be recognised and valued as a key central thread which speaks of identity and diversity across the cultural heritage sector.

We need to do better at opening-up opportunities to individuals who have the talent and ability to thrive in the heritage and cultural sector, but to date have been excluded because heritage and culture is still largely gatekept – it’s exclusive rather than inclusive. Despite significant attempts at levelling up over the last 25 years within museums for example, the workforce is still predominantly white, able-bodied and middle class. And consequently, that is still reflected in the audiences, collections, and exhibitions.

And we need to provide funding for this activity to happen – funding that understands what sporting heritage is and why it’s valuable. Sporting Heritage CIC is run on a shoe-string which is not sustainable. And yet we are inundated with requests for support daily. We deliver a programme of small community grants which have huge cultural value and impact across the levelling up agenda – and which are always over-subscribed. As an example, Byrne Avenue Victorian Baths in Birkenhead – a life-line to the community, true sporting heritage, is facing an impossible battle to access funding.

Individuals and communities feel an affinity with sport in a different way to many other subject matters. It is often at the heart of a community, not only in the camaraderie of support for a club, or the participation in sport itself either as a competitor or volunteer, but also in the infrastructure of a community’s make up. Sporting heritage tells the story of the past and present of sport, of every sport. And nowhere is this more central than in the communities of the north.

Where there’s sport, there’s sporting heritage!

Dr Justine Reilly, Sporting Heritage CIC Director, commented “We feel this is a hugely important opportunity to demonstrate the role and value of sporting heritage on individuals and communities across the North. We believe that it’s vital that the heritage of sport is positioned centrally within sport and culture policy, strategy and funding going forward, and the inquiry provides massive potential for us to achieve that”.

As a result, Sporting Heritage is drawing together a response from the sector as a whole to evidence how powerful sporting heritage is to communities, to the workforce, to individuals, and how it delivers across agendas such as mental health and levelling up, and are looking for your input into our response.

We also recommend that as many organisations and individuals from across the sector respond independently to build as rich a picture as possible about the role and value of sporting heritage to the inquiry and subsequent action.

The key questions of the inquiry are:

  • What is needed to boost the cultural value of sport and build stronger communities across the North?
  • How much more cultural value could sport add to levelling up opportunities and access to culture?
  • How can sport drive cultural value, identity and diversity and contribute to the North’s rich seam of talent and grow the North’s economy?

The deadline for responding to Sporting Heritage CIC with your input on these questions is 31st July and by emailing info@sportingheritage.org.uk with the subject line APPG Inquiry Response. No more than 500 words please and to include where possible:

  • Quotes from participants, which demonstrate impact on the above three questions
  • Specific information on the impact of your work (this could be in monetary terms or in social impact for example)
  • One or two images you are able to grant us rights to use as illustration

The deadline for responding to the inquiry independently is 5th September and you can submit your responses here: https://northernculture.org.uk/northern-culture-appg-inquiry-call-to-evidence/

A massive thanks in advance and let’s place sporting heritage at the centre of cultural discussion!

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