The Canterbury Tales: volleyball as a social enterprise
31st January 2020
Volleyball is a sport for good. It can be used as a catalyst for building community cohesion, encouraging active lifestyles and it provides an attractive blend of competition and fun. And Canterbury based Invicta Volleyball are taking this to the next level having set up their club as a social enterprise.
To date, the club, community and volleyball have benefited enormously from Invicta’s structure. In less than a year they have been successful in receiving funding from Swale Borough Council and attracting sponsorship from Lifestyle Fitness, a national company, allowing more volleyball to be offered to more people, more often.
This includes running 5 sessions per week for different groups across 2 towns, setting up a satellite club, running 2 training camps, 2 adult tournaments and a festival for primary school teams with over 90 excited and engaged participants.
Add to this the fact that Invicta Volleyball is the only non-university club in East Kent and their achievements become even more impressive.
The brainchild of Luke Thomas, an FIVB Level III coach and Volleyball England tutor, and Andrey Abadzhiev, for Luke the motivation for setting up the club as a social enterprise was simple: “I wanted to build and run a club that is truly a club for all – we are driven by the desire to effect positive social change. Eventually, we will have opportunities for everyone to play volleyball regardless of age or ability and, importantly, we will have the appropriate level of competition for everyone, too.”
What is the difference?
In England, the majority of volleyball clubs are run as membership organisations, holding annual general meetings (AGMs) and electing a committee from the membership to lead and manage the club.
But as a private company limited by shares and affiliated to Social Enterprise UK, Invicta Volleyball Club is charting a new path. As one of the club’s shareholders, Luke explained some of the differences: “Instead of having an AGM, we have a board of directors. The shareholders are financially tied to the company and the big advantage is that we can choose people who match our outlook to join the management side of Invicta.”
For many clubs, as the makeup of their membership changes, this can naturally lead to the focus of the club shifting depending on the desires of those new people.
Luke said: “But with our structure, the direction of the club is fairly secure. We run the club as democratically as possible while holding the needs of the club at heart, but we are not subject to the sway of members – affording us even greater stability to work towards our mission.”
The power of adverts
With newfound knowledge from his experience of founding and nurturing Invicta, Luke has advice for others looking to build and grow a club.
“Our club has been built almost entirely through its presence on social media. Don’t be afraid to dig into your or the club’s pockets and pay for advertising. There is a large market of interested people who may not have thought of volleyball until they are prompted by your club’s Facebook advert to take it up.
“For us, it has paid for itself already in bringing in new people. Play the long game, don’t pay out more than you can afford to lose but remember that even having 1 or 2 people sign up to your club can pay back the advertising costs very quickly.”
A catalyst for change
Looking back fondly over Invicta’s 1st year, it is clear the club embody the mission of a social enterprise: to effect positive social change.
“I’m most proud of seeing people come back week after week,” said Luke, “I love seeing them stay and clearly enjoying being on the court.
“Before there was no volleyball and now, we have it on most nights. Because of that, people have met through volleyball and much of their social life is built around the sport and the people they have met. It makes me very proud to be a part of that – seeing people’s lives tangibly benefit through the power of sport.”