Maximising impact with limited resources: Insights from UK Deaf Sport
We talk to Joanne Cholerton, CEO and General Secretary at UK Deaf Sport (UKDS) about raising awareness, securing funding, and promoting equality and parity for deaf athletes while providing valuable training and inclusion programs for deaf sports organisations.
Can you tell us a bit about UKDS and what the charity has already achieved?
UK Deaf Sport is the national governing body for deaf sport in the UK. Every day we inspire and support deaf people to engage in sport and physical activity from grassroots to elite level. We also select and manage the Deaflympics GB Team.
There are 12 million people in the UK with some form of deafness or 1 in 6 of the population, but they are currently one of the most inactive groups when it comes to sports and exercise. Last year, Sport England found that one in three people aged 16+ with a hearing impairment did not participate in sport or physical activity compared to one in 20 people without a disability.
We are doing everything we can to empower every deaf person to get active and be inspired by sport and physical activity. A lot of that work requires sharing knowledge and growing awareness, so we have developed a Deaf People’s Inclusion in Sport online training programme and support deaf sport organisations in their governance and sport delivery.
Our core mission is to widen opportunities for more deaf people to participate in sport throughout their lives and for more deaf athletes to perform on the world stage. There is a common misconception that deaf athletes compete in the Paralympics, but they actually can’t unless they have another Paralympic impairment that entitles them to do so. Instead, deaf athletes compete in the Deaflympics, an event that is 100 years old next year and precedes the Paralympics. The Deaflympics is an entirely separate event recognised by the International Olympic Committee as part of the Olympic family alongside the Olympics, Paralympics, and Special Olympics.
There is a full programme of European and World deaf sport events leading up to the Deaflympics. In 2022-23 we entered teams into:
- Deaf Champions League, June 2022, Greece. St John’s came third overall
- World Deaf Sailing Championships, August 2022, Poland
- World Deaf Golf Championships, October 2022, Hawaii (England Women came third overall)
- European Futsal Championships, October 2022, Italy (England Women won the tournament)
- Deaf Champions League Futsal, February 2023, Sweden
However, unlike every other disability, there is currently no Government funding or support for elite deaf athletes training for and attending the Deaflympics and other European and World deaf sport competitions. UK Deaf Sport is campaigning for fairness and parity for elite deaf athletes with their Olympic and Paralympic counterparts.
Our work is driven by our unshakeable belief that deaf representation, inclusion, and participation in sports matters – at every age and every level, from the grassroots to the world stage. Also, deaf children need to see role models on the world stage in the same way every other disabled child can.
Many charities and businesses are looking for solutions to maximise impact with limited resources. What can they put in place to really make a difference?
We are a very small charity of six members of staff with a significant remit. We need to punch above our weight and can only do so much ourselves. The key to maximising impact with limited resources is to be very targeted on where you can have the most impact and focus your efforts and resources there and try not to achieve everything. Robust delivery plans and impact measures are key to this.
Partnership working and collaboration are our other focus to deliver our vision and mission. Identifying and collaborating with partners who share our aims and vision and have a lot more resources to deliver them than we do is key. For example, there is a National Governing Body for each sport, so we work with them to enable and support them to be inclusive for deaf participants. Collaboration informed by a clear Stakeholder Strategy allows us to maximise our impact.
What commercial partnerships and collaborative community projects are UKDS involved with?
UK Deaf Sport is currently looking for new commercial partnerships and sponsorship for grassroots deaf sport as well as for the Deaflympics GB Team in the run-up to Tokyo in 2025.
In our last round of funding, we supported a wide range of deaf sports and physical activities at the community level, including a South Asian Deaf Women’s Walking Group, delivered by Bolton Deaf Society, upskilling a deaf rowing coach to deliver sessions to the deaf community through the ELREM Foundation, Armchair Aerobics session with Access Bedford, a deaf netball league and deaf basketball, as well as football sessions for deaf young people in schools.
What are the main challenges that social enterprises come up against and what are the solutions?
Funding, funding and funding. There’s never enough funding for all the great social enterprises out there, both big and small, so distinguishing your cause and your mission from other great causes and making the case as to why they should be funded is key. Use your beneficiaries as no one can represent you better than they can.
What are the charity’s plans for 2024?
To advance our campaign for equality and parity of participation at grassroots and elite level, including campaigning for deaf athletes to have parity with their Olympic and Paralympic counterparts. This includes:
- Raising awareness of deaf sport and the Deaflympics
- Securing new commercial partnerships and sponsorship
- Undertaking a new survey with the deaf community to understand further the barriers to participation in sport and physical activity with different levels of hearing loss and understand how intersectionality, age and geographical factors impact participation
- Launching a new UK Deaf Sport Membership Programme
- Selecting the Deaflympics GB Team for the Tokyo Deaflympics in 2025