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Sport Tasman's Steve Mitchell on sportvilles

09 June 2014

Sport Tasman has been actively helping communities to establish sportvilles. Steve Mitchell talks about guiding this process.

The sportville model sees clubs and community groups combine resources, use and maintain the same facilities, and work together to share costs, ideas and services. Backed by sound business practice and an effort to cater for all members of the community, it can result in a well-fostered club spirit, thriving amidst a variety of sport and recreation opportunities. If done right, this concept can reward clubs with increased participation and membership.

Changing with the times

Many clubs face increasing pressure. Fewer participants and volunteers, combined with increasing expenses and the burden of maintaining or building facilities, are making it difficult to keep clubs financially healthy. If struggling clubs continue to operate alone, they risk losing further members and staff, and then possibly face closure.

Some might argue that clubs are out of fashion and we should let them drift from our communities with the changing tide. But Sport New Zealand's Richard Lindsay, who works closely with regional communities and advises on their sport and recreation facilities, says this is not the answer.

"Clubs continue to be the lifeblood of community sport in New Zealand. Traditions and friendly rivalries reach back generations, and the club spirit is still supported in New Zealand. It is important that clubs continue to serve their communities at the grassroots level. This is where the sportsville model can revive struggling clubs and it's already working in New Zealand. A great example of this is in Tasman, a region that's evolving and adapting by embracing the sportsville model."

Tasman's Moutere Hills - before sportsville

Before becoming a sportsville, Moutere Hills was just a memorial sports park with two tired asphalt tennis courts and a post-war hall down the road from the playing fields.

The tennis club had all but died, with only a few staunch members keeping it from disappearing.

The Rangers Rugby Club, which used the memorial ground, was struggling with only two junior teams, one senior side, and the hall they used was in desperate need of a $35,000 upgrade.

At the time Steve Mitchell was Chairman of the Rangers Rugby Club and he said it was a time to think creatively. He worked closely with Sport Tasman and the local rugby club to promote the sportsville concept, and the community backed the idea wholeheartedly.

Moutere Hills became the region's first sportsville, opening to coincide with the Rugby Club's Fiftieth Jubilee.

Since then, Sport Tasman has been actively assisting their communities to establish sportvilles. Steve Mitchell, who went on to work for Sport Tasman, has been involved with guiding this process. Steve says he knows first-hand how beneficial they can be.

Moutere Hills and Tasman Today

"Tasman now has around 12 facility developments in differing stages across the region," he says. "Sport Tasman was brought in to help with the establishment of programme delivery, management templates and policies within Moutere Hills community complex initially. We have been involved in many more since and undertake everything from community consultation to advice on design, management and operation. With facilities in Renwick, Murchison, Moutere, Motueka, and developments in Seddon, Picton, Golden Bay already signalled, the work is constantly in front of us.

"Moutere Hills has developed over six years of operation to have a strong business plan and a sustainable financial model. The sporting codes operating from the centre have grown from two to numerous, and the support that the centre now provides to the volunteer base has improved both the performance of the codes and the centre as a whole."

Rangers club from Moutere Hills now has, in addition to the rugby club, a football club, a softball club, a cricket club (all called Rangers, and playing in the orange and black strip), and offers numerous other indoor activities including volleyball, badminton, basketball, table tennis, yoga, and zumba. Sportsvilles in the wider area are offering lessons in guitar, Scottish dancing, Spanish, mosaics, cooking classes, right through to the established codes including rugby, touch, football and tennis. The sportvilles also provide facilities for weddings, funerals, and other regular community celebrations or functions.

Steve says this is all thanks to having modern facilities, more activities and a sound business practice. He also emphasises hiring the right person as a recreation coordinator. "From the initial concept, there are now three new sportvilles operational with plans for more. Any community facility developed within our region is told that multi-use and community provision must be considered in the earliest possible stages for any realistic council or funding support."

Like all businesses, the value must also been seen on the books, eventually being run with clear surpluses. For struggling clubs, this may seem a pipedream, but Tasman is proof of the possibility. Steve says Moutere Hills is now turning over $150,000 - $170,000 and generating a surplus each year.

"With a financial model that returns a dividend to the centre, and the ability to generate an operational surplus and retain it as sustainable business practice within five years of operation, it is a remarkable feat for any business, let alone a not-for-profit community facility charged with provision for all members of the community."

A model ideal for rural New Zealand

The sportsville model was ideal for Tasman, like it would be for much of rural New Zealand where communities are almost littered with underused facilities of a bygone post-war era, like weathered and unloved monuments to 'the good old days'.

But they can still be used and should to be reconsidered as community assets.

"Many rural communities have numerous, tired, ragged facilities staggered around one green space all requiring administration, maintenance and people," says Steve.

"By combining these worn out buildings and community groups into a modern, multiuse facility that the whole community can claim as their own, a rejuvenated community heart can be established within these communities and thrive."

Membership

At Moutere Hills, memberships and general fees are balanced to cater for all interests. Casual participants are asked for a gold coin donation, while annual fees for the clubs are based on membership numbers. Also, three levels of charges have been established for the facility hire: community, casual and commercial.

There is an argument that this model doesn't necessarily increase membership, but Steve says the variety of activities and the user pays 'gold coin' approach brings people through the doors. "On an individual club or code basis membership may vary, but on an overall picture of community people involved in sport and recreation activities, and not necessarily aligned with formal club membership, yes, most definitely.

"The increased level of activities could result in a negative flow from some established codes due to new opportunities offered, but those who move from one sport are usually involved within a different code or opportunity, so numbers overall are not adversely affected."

Pay-to-play

The sportsville model is careful to provide for people not interested in membership, but who want to take part on a casual 'pay-to-play' basis, something which is becoming increasingly popular.

Sport New Zealand's 2011 Sport Market Survey found that about 80% of people were just interested in social participation, and about 18% preferred pay-to-play options. "

We lose kids from our junior teams around the age of 13 and 14, when they head to college, but we still see them on a casual basis, with a gold coin donation getting them through the door," says Steve.

"And the gold coin concept brings in a lot more than people realise. It provides cost-effective opportunities while also allowing for the members to benefit from professional services."

Resources

Sport Tasman developed a manual to help clubs transition into the sportsville model, with support documentation across all aspects of governance, management and operation. They are happy to share it. "This base manual does require clubs to undertake some work, as it has to be applied to each individual situation, but it's a good start, with advice on first steps and who to talk to, as long as people keep in mind that it must be tweaked to their own circumstances."

The use of this resource demonstrates that good ideas need to be backed up with support, either in person such as Steve with Sport Tasman, or through the hard copy resources.

A good place to start is the Sport Tasman website, documents on governance, staff and volunteers, financial management, and centre operations.

Sport New Zealand's website also contains resources and Sport NZ's Richard Lindsay is available to offer further advice. Richard, Sport NZ's National Facilities Advisor, is looking to work with more councils and sports trusts to ensure sportvilles remain a viable option for communities.

The final word

The sportsville model is gaining momentum and support within the sporting sector. Richard Lindsay often uses Upper Moutere as an example of good practice.

"Sport NZ was eager to support the sportsville work in the Tasman region. Ever since our initial investment we have watched the progress of the Upper Moutere and other projects with interest. What has struck me is that many areas have thought sportsville is a smart idea, but only a few have put it into practice.

Steve and the team at Sport Tasman have not only pushed the idea, but developed usable resources and guides for those wanting to get involved. Clearly the role of Sport Tasman as the regional sports trust is a component to this success. They have supported the clubs through thick and thin."

Richard emphasises the need for council involvement if the model is to work.

"The local authorities are a critical component of any sportville. Often as the owner of assets and land associated with sport and recreation they have a key role to play and the regional sports trust need to work with them from the outset."

Steve agrees and says he's passionate about the sportsville concept because it works, but only if the right people are in place. "It depends on a great group of people on the board, some clever and professional people on the ground, and a community that has supported and bought into the concept from the onset.

"This has been an extremely exciting series of projects and the more we do the more we get asked to do. We also run some community facilities on behalf of local territorial authorities and so have a great overview of not only how to consult, establish, build, staff, operate and govern but how to actually get a sportville from concept to successful operation. The benefits for the local community are absolutely amazing to see and be a part of, and I am especially proud of the Moutere Hills Community Complex."

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