Fantastic Out For Sport funding boosts Unicorns Netball and more LGBTQ+ clubs in London

Published by Jon Holmes on

First round of Nike grants already having “huge impact” for seven projects in the capital supported by Out For Sport, which now has charitable status; Unicorns LGBTQIA+ Netball Club – about to celebrate their first anniversary – share success story and future plans; Out For Sport co-chair Vicki Carter says “we want to reach thousands more LGBTQ+ Londoners”

By Jon Holmes

Unicorns LGBTQIA+ Netball Club has around 50 members, despite only been on the London sports scene for 12 months

There is already a magical feeling of achievement and Pride at Unicorns LGBTQIA+ Netball Club, just one year after they launched in London.

But in truth, this is a sporting tale that is only just getting started – and courtesy of a groundbreaking new program being delivered by Out For Sport (OFS), the future is looking very bright indeed.

OFS, which was founded back in 1998 after the Gay Games in Amsterdam, is the federation of LGBTQ+-inclusive sports clubs in the capital and South-East.

It recently became a registered charity and thanks to a partnership with sports giant Nike, it’s been rolling out a series of grants which will help even more potential participants find the activities they love.

So far, seven projects – including Unicorns – are benefitting from the new LGBTQIA+ Diversity and Inclusion Fund which aims to address barriers to accessing grassroots sport by those aged under 25; by those who identify as female, trans and non-binary; and by those from under-represented ethnic groups and diverse cultural backgrounds.

The grants will support the delivery of taster sessions, inclusive coaching, training for umpires and officials, inclusive tournaments, capacity-building and more.

Vicki Carter

“London’s grassroots LGBTQ+ sports clubs already deliver the positive benefits of sport to thousands of people,” says OFS co-chair Vicki Carter.

“To reach thousands more, we need to make sure that they’re seen as safe, inclusive, and welcoming spaces for everyone.

“So we’re very grateful to Nike for funding these grants, and we’re very excited to be working with the clubs on these innovative projects to drive sporting participation across our diverse LGBTQ+ community.”

The seven projects are:

  • Camden Kempo Martial Arts: Increasing gender diversity within the sport by funding access to summer camps, belt gradings, competitions and leadership and teaching skills
  • London Otters Rowing Club: Taster sessions and a training course for LGBTQ+ youth in collaboration with London Youth Rowing, providing a pathway into LORC or other grassroots sport clubs
  • Knockout LGBTQ+ Boxing Club: Training for four new LGBTQ+ coaches, taster sessions, and an accessible three-month pathway into regular training targeting under-represented communities.
  • London Royals Hockey Club: A day of free sessions in multiple sports, followed by a six-week hockey development program, both designed specifically for trans/non-binary players
  • Ishigaki Jujitsu: A programme of new joiner days and ongoing support designed to recruit and retain younger people,  female, trans and non-binary members and those from underrepresented communities
  • Unicorns LGBTQIA+ Netball Club: Taster sessions and ongoing training and coaching sessions targeted at younger people and those from underrepresented communities
  • Inclusive football coaching for women and non-binary players of all abilities: Recruiting and training a diverse LGBTQ+ coaching team and referees, making club football a more inclusive and attractive space for women and non-binary players

To learn more about why this funding is so important to clubs like Unicorns, Sports Media LGBT+ asked its founder James Braun to tell us more about their journey so far and what’s next…

Hi James! Thank you for chatting with us. How has Unicorns grown since you started out in October 2021 and what has this meant to you personally?

We started out as a small group of netballers with a shared passion for creating a safe space for people of all genders and abilities to play the sport we love. As we approach our first anniversary, I’m really proud of how far we’ve come.

We’ve got around 50 registered members, 10% of whom identify as trans or non-binary, and 80% of whom are LGBTQ+. The rest are made up of friends and straight allies that helped us to get off the ground and want to continue to support us as we grow. I firmly believe that netball is a sport for all and we want to include people who are allies of the entire LGBTQIA+ community.

James Braun

Having been to sessions of other LGBTQ+ sports clubs in London, I was surprised to find there wasn’t already a fully inclusive one for netball. There is one for queer women and non-binary people called Queerballers – they’ve been around a bit longer than us. But there was definitely a gap in the market for me to create Unicorns and I cleared it with Queerballers first. They’ve been nothing but supportive of us. We’ve collaborated with them, we’re good friends with them, and we do events and activities together.

For Unicorns to have come so far and so quickly makes me immensely proud. The thanks and feedback I’ve received from so many of our participants reflects this.

What impact is the new funding from the OFS project having on Unicorns?

We received the money a few months ago and it’s already had a huge impact on us. It’s enabled us to start putting on sessions in different locations, to start paying coaches, and to buy our own equipment – rather than borrowing equipment, relying on volunteers, and using the one court that we didn’t have to pay for that wasn’t really fit for purpose. For example, it had one basketball hoop and one netball hoop! It was fine for us to start off with but it’s better that we can provide more professional sessions.

So we now have sessions on in Camden and in Canada Water, and we’re going to also look at doing sessions in Peckham in south London, and hopefully east and west London too.

Part of the funding is set aside for sending two of our members on courses – we’ve got budget for one to go on a coaching course and one to go on an umpiring course. It will mean we’ve got our own in-house people that can help us rather than having to pay for external people – and it won’t just benefit us but also the individuals who go on the courses because they’re gaining new skills which they can further develop and get paid work with.

Bringing inclusive netball sessions to different parts of London is one of the Unicorns’ objectives

Can you give us an example of a success story at the club?

One of our members discovered us at the OFS Sports Fair. They identify as non-binary and have always loved netball – they played it at school – but they had really struggled to find somewhere where they could play in an open and inclusive environment as an adult.

Netball is a very accessible sport in that you don’t need any equipment and you don’t need too many skills, but there are gender constraints at the top level. Men’s and mixed netball is becoming much bigger but even in mixed, you can only have so many men on a court in a team and the whole idea of Unicorns is that we kind of throw that out the window. We say it doesn’t matter what gender you identify as, just come along, play with us, enjoy it and get better, and take what you want from it.

All new people that want to come get two free sessions. But this person attended just one session before deciding to sign up as a full member – that was really nice that they wanted to join straight away and they’ve come to every session ever since.

Their enthusiasm and passion has really come across. In such a short time, they’ve become so much more confident playing netball and I think it’s down to the fact that they know they can be themselves and aren’t restricted by the same gender rules that clubs and leagues sometimes impose.

Most recently, they were selected to represent Unicorns at our first official tournament, an international being held in Amsterdam in November. We’re entering a queer mixed team. The tournament is for anyone – it isn’t specifically for LGBTQ+ teams – but we thought it would be a good opportunity to raise our own profile. I spoke to the organisers and they are really trans and non-binary friendly and they insisted all players can play as the gender they identify as.

The Unicorns assembling at a recent training session

Unicorns aims to use the funding to grow participation for U25s and for people who are Black / from diverse ethnic communities. Why is it important to focus on these groups at this time and how will you and OFS look to reach them with this message of ‘welcome’?

We’re using our existing connections with universities and colleges, such as Mountview Academy in Peckham which is where one of our committee members works and is the equalities champion. Through them, we’ll be able to reach more U25s and also potentially attract people from more ethnically diverse backgrounds.

Generally speaking those attending universities can feel quite isolated, being away from their families and communities, and we know sport is a great way to break down those boundaries and make new connections.

Thanks so much to James and good luck to the Unicorns team heading to Amsterdam soon! Find out more about Unicorns on their website and follow on social media (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter).

To see further details of the seven projects and to follow their progress, follow Nike and Out For Sport on social media (@nikelondon and @outforsport_ on Instagram), using hashtag #LGBTQIADiversityInclusionFund.

The Out For Sport Awards 2022 are coming, honouring the best of LGBTQ+ sport in London and the South East! Nominations are open now in 10 categories – access the form here – and mark your calendar for awards night in London on Friday 18 November.

Sports Media LGBT+ is a network, advocacy, and consultancy group that is helping to build a community of LGBTQ+ people and allies in sport. We’re also a digital publisher. Learn more about us here.

We’re interested in your news and stories. Share with us and tap into a worldwide audience through our Google News affiliate website and our popular social channels with over 10,000 followers. Contact us to discuss how we can help you.

Jon Holmes

Digital Sports Editor