Wanting to be supportive, not instructive

26th May 2017

Wanting to be supportive, not instructive

A message from Keith Nicholls, Acting President at Volleyball England

Volleyball England has had a very difficult year that has turned the association upside down. However, I believe there is now a lot of positive action taking place - at all levels of the association - that will put Volleyball England and volleyball in a much better shape than it has been in recent years.

However, to go forward, we must be transparent and honest about our mistakes so that we can make the changes needed to avoid repeating those mistakes in the future.

When I first joined the executive of the national body 51 years ago, there was a missionary zeal to promote and expand volleyball. We need that again. We need evangelists to take volleyball into schools, towns and clubs.

Possibly the biggest lesson learned over the last year was that the volleyball expertise and experience of our members is enormous and can be powerful if it is allowed to get on with the job. Accordingly, Volleyball England is now committed to being a supportive organisation, not an instructive one. 

We are almost totally reliant on Sport England funding and that cannot continue. Over the next four years, we will have to make difficult choices. Those choices will not be made by “Headquarters” but by the volleyball community and the Board. What funds we have will be used to invest in volleyball and not just spent. The way we work with, and involve, our clubs must improve.

In the past, Volleyball England has focused on the elite end of the volleyball market. While there have been some relative successes, they have absorbed disproportionate financial and administrative resources. Our aim now is to serve all the market, ranging from local, recreational volleyball all the way through to the NVL and the talent pathways.

Failing in our Board remit

The Board is responsible for setting the strategy and overseeing the administrative side of the Association. While this might sound obvious, I mention it because, over several years, the Board lost sight of this. We allowed the Senior Management Team (SMT) to dictate strategy and to frustrate our attempts to check and challenge the administration.

There have been plenty of personnel changes on the Board and in the SMT since then and we expect more new Directors to join the Board at this year’s AGM to provide new energy and thinking.

When we parted company with the former SMT, Sport England put us in special measures. Urgent action needed to be taken by the Board to enable them to continue funding us. We discovered significant failings in the operational management and structure at our head office. In particular, a lack of clear financial reporting and management was evident and the accounts for the previous year were not in a position to be audited.

The Board recognised that major changes needed to be made as soon as possible and it has been my job to lead the Association through those changes, namely;

  1. To stabilise the situation, it was clear that we needed to appoint staff with proven professional skills with an empathy with volleyball. We were lucky that Janet Inman and Stewart Dunne, long standing volleyballers with strong business experience, took up the challenge.
  2. To be open and transparent about the situation with the volunteer network of commissions and regions and engage them in the process of changing the culture of Volleyball England from a centrally run body to one that supported and devolved as much as possible to those working at grassroots level.
  3. To restructure the head office (the Hub) and create a leaner and more flexible workforce imbued with the new support culture.
  4. To resolve the financial accounts for both the current and previous year; a massive task that will be complete in time for the AGM.
  5. Set up new management and financial systems to provide the level of accuracy and efficiency expected of any business.
  6. To work with Sport England to ensure we met their standards of governance and competence so we could move forward with the new funding bid.

I hope that, over the coming months, you will begin to see the benefits of the work that is going on behind the scenes as we look to better serve our membership. After all, the sport belongs to you, not the Board and not the Hub staff. As our members, the future of the sport is in your hands.

As ever, if you want to play a part in helping to reshape the activities of Volleyball England, please get in touch at iwanttohelp@volleyballengland.org.

Wanting to be supportive, not instructive