The Tackling Inequalities Fund (TIF) - now known as the Together Fund - was set up by Sport England to support the sport and physical activity sector.
COVID-19 had a devastating impact on basketball clubs across England, negatively affecting people’s mental and physical well-being, and, in some cases, their livelihoods too.
The fund was distributed by Basketball England to scores of clubs. Mersey Mavericks were one and co-founder Kate Lewis recognises the story of difficulty and hardship, explaining to Basketball England that the virus had ‘annihilated’ the club’s ability to develop areas of the game, including playing, coaching and officiating. Additionally, pandemic restrictions meant the club’s participation numbers dropped to unprecedented levels, quashing a main source of income for running costs.
“It wasn't alright,” said Lewis, who is from the Wirral, Liverpool and is BE’s Basketball North West Manager. “We relied on subs to pay certain bills, including facility hire and when COVID-19 happened, we fell into arrears. Some parents were able to continue paying towards the club and others just couldn’t, so we were in a right mess.”
BE was awarded funding through Sport England and The National Lottery to help basketball clubs, leagues, area associations and community groups bounce back from COVID-19, and the Mavs were one of the many that benefitted from the emergency pot of money.
“Through BE, we applied for the funding to dig us out of the massive hole we were in and get us back to a point that we could go again,” said the 52-year-old.
“The pandemic had killed our minis programme. Beforehand, we were getting 50 at a session and it was just brilliant, and obviously, those players flowed through to the rest of the club. So, we used the money to restore those sessions, using Slam Jam as a tool to get the kids back involved. We also used the money to help us move into another school, in addition to our base at St Hilda’s, and install new drop-down baskets to put on more basketball sessions.”
A second batch of TIF funding, plus help from The National Lottery Community Fund #iwill and Mind’s (the mental health charity) Coronavirus Mental Health Response fund, saw the Mavs develop their girls’ programme too, including recruiting and educating new coaches.
“We put quite a bit of work into it over lockdown, with a couple of projects funded by #iwill and Mind that were about online engagement and our existing girl members being trained as ambassadors to recruit more girls from the community into the club.
“We were also able to train up four new level two coaches and produce marketing collateral. I got a photographer to come in and take some good images, which were important to show those that wanted to play that our club had girls playing from their community. And it just exploded. We've got between 60 and 70 girls coming on a Thursday night. From these sessions grew our U12 and U14 squads, the younger ones are now playing in the basketball North West League. It's just phenomenal. Out of all the things I've done in basketball, and I've been involved in a lot of different things, it's the best thing I've ever done by a million miles.”
Sport England Senior Manager of Children and Young People Jill Rothwell visited the club to see the impact the investment had made, taking part in a girls session and listening to the various challenges the club had overcome.
“Our strategy Uniting the Movement focuses very much on ensuring that young people receive positive experiences of sport and physical activity, something that Mersey Mavericks is providing in buckets,” said Rothwell.
The Mersey Mavericks were founded by Lewis, John Lavery and Mike Embaye, who all wanted to increase participation in recreational basketball in the south of Liverpool. The club now boasts 350 members, but its founding ethos remains: to get everyone to reach their potential.
“It’s always been about ball for all. It's not about winning, it's about everybody getting a great opportunity. And you know what? If you’ve got great coaching, a great environment [to play basketball] and the support of the families, you’re already winning.”
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