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Sports Volunteering on University-led Outreach Projects: A Space for Developing Social Capital

The focus of this article centers around an established universities sports outreach program—the Sport Universities North East England (SUNEE) project—and explores how its core workforce, student volunteers, perceive that they develop effective working relationships with the project’s “hard-to-reach” clients. The SUNEE project represents an alliance between the region’s five universities to tackle social exclusion, and promote and nurture social capital and civil responsibility through the vehicle of sports. This joined-up approach to sports development provides the region’s student volunteers with vast opportunities to gain both experience and qualifications as sports coaches, mentors, and leaders by working with a range of hard-to-reach groups. To explore how the dynamics of the project influenced relationship statuses between SUNEE’s diverse participants, from the perspective of the student volunteers, this article draws upon Robert Putnam’s notion of social capital to interpret the experiences of the study’s percipients (n = 40). Captured using semi-structured interviews, students indicate that over the course of their participation in the project, social capital served both exclusionary and integrative functions, yet as time elapsed, social capital was increasingly generated between SUNEE’s diverse participants, playing a crucial role in bringing both volunteers and hard-to-reach clients together.