David Tinnion, London Youth Rowing: The benefits of CSR partnerships in sports

The involvement of private firms in grassroots sports initiatives is nothing new, with popular fields such as football and rugby no stranger to this, but with a plethora of activities out there, some may be overlooked. 

Operating as a charity with a core focus to ‘deliver purpose’, London Youth Rowing (LYR) aims to open up rowing to young people who wouldn’t normally get the opportunities to take part.

Chief Operating Officer of the group, David Tinnion, spoke with Insider Sport Journalist, Jessie Sale, about both the community and businesses benefits of the sport as it reaches new audiences.

In terms of partnerships with such sports initiatives, Tinion explained that these can be an effective way of engaging with employees as well as working with charities on a financial basis. 

He added: “Sport obviously lends itself to things like fundraising challenges, volunteering at competitions, and also you get some great imagery with sports if you do it the right way which can really help with the communications and marketing side to help explain partnerships to people and the benefits they’re bringing to communities.”

LYR has previously formed a four-year partnership with London-based Tideway which saw the group gain funding for its Active Row programme across 14 schools in the city. Tinion noted that it ran alongside funding from Sport England – helping the scale of this initiative to reach even more young people.

Tinnion continued: “I think what really made it a unique and powerful partnership was everything else that came along with that. Tideway really committed to the partnership over and above; they regularly ran fundraising events and had their employees take part in events like Raise the Thames.

“They were always focused on longer-term legacy, they invested in us to build a new site for water rowing on the olympic part – obviously a fantastic location for engagement.”

Furthermore, the COO explained that the firm helped with a lot of specialist volunteering with LYR such as finance, data protection, resilience planning and communication, adding: “Often in a charity it’s quite hard to find the resource to really improve how you do things.

“We’re in a fantastic position where the organisation as a whole has got a lot stronger and more professional than it was when we got into the partnership. We are perfectly positioned now to have a longer-term legacy and really continue to deliver and improve the programme.”

Moreover, the organisation has had a number of links with Olympians and Paralympians over the years, which Tinnion described as the ‘pinnacle’ of the sport. As well as acting as role models for the youth, he explained: “It definitely does help with boosting people’s awareness of LYR and what we’re trying to do.

“If you’ve been at the very top of the sport, people understand within the rowing world, and importantly beyond the rowing world, who you are, and if you can share some of the message of what LYR is trying to do in terms of really engaging the absolute grassroots, then that is usually helpful.”

Overall, Tinnion suggested that CSR partnerships are slightly overlooked. He highlighted the challenges when a sport ‘doesn’t have the profile’ with the general public, compared with the likes of football, rugby and cricket, for example.

He explained that although the number of people taking part on a regular basis is lower, he believes there is ‘still something that organisations can do more with’, using the example of the Boat Race.

“That is a huge event,” he continued. “It attracts massive commercial sponsorship and historically brands have wanted to be associated with that. But it tends to look and feel the same each year.

“But we’re beginning to help with changing that through the support we’ve had from the Boat Race in the last couple of years. In a way, the showcase that we can offer, gives a whole different perspective on an event like that.

“I think there probably is more that organisations can do and start to build more of the positive associations about the sport, but also a more interesting message about how this is being opened up to new audiences and not just the traditional people we associate rowing with.”

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