‘The additional kit cost over £100’: Sport at Bristol Uni feels financially inaccessible

‘One of the reasons I stopped was because of the financial stress it added’

Bristol Uni students currently face an abundance of living costs. The ever-increasing rental prices seem to be almost as high as in London, and with the cost of both bills and food rising exponentially, it is no wonder why everyone is strapped for cash.

For many, sport is a means to escape these financial problems. Something as simple as a kickabout with your mates can work wonders for dissolving stress, and joining a sports team is an easy way to socialise regularly which is ideal for improving mental health.

However, sport at Bristol Uni is not as accessible as it should be due to membership and other costs being incredibly high. The Bristol Tab spoke to three students who play high-level sports to discuss the financial struggles they have to deal with.

Annabel*, a third-year student who previously played women’s rugby, said: “The membership on its own was £180, and the kit came to about £100. I also had to pay for a gym membership to keep up with fitness, and I felt obliged to go to rugby socials, which were very expensive over the course of the year. One of the reasons I stopped was because of the financial stress it added.”

Millie*, a second-year student who plays netball, said: “The additional kit cost over £100 and was not included in the initial £200 membership. It’s very unfair that these costs stop so many from playing sports. With socials, travel, and everything else added on, my loan meant for living costs was gone.”

Tom*, a third-year student who plays for the university rugby team, told The Bristol Tab: “The membership, kit and gym membership added up to £600. My initial loan of £1400 was gone very quickly.”

Bristol Uni rugby match

“My university studies were affected just because I wanted to play rugby at a good level. I couldn’t focus on my degree because of financial worries,” he added.

In an attempt to mitigate these financial barriers, the university offers a more casual playing level called intramural. However, even this can be quite expensive.

In an attempt to mitigate these financial barriers, the university offers a more casual playing level called intramural. However, even this can be quite expensive.

With intramural sports largely taking place at Coombe Dingle (an hour walk from the campus according to Google Maps), it means students have to pay £3.20 for a return bus ticket each week to get to their games. While a free shuttle bus is available on a Wednesday, many of the sports are played at the weekend meaning public transport is the only option. In reality, the initial £40 per year fee is a lot higher.

Evidently, with both varsity and intramural providing students with yet another financial burden during a cost of living crisis, more needs to be done to make sport at the university financially accessible for everyone.

It is important to note that the university does offer sports scholarships to help students cope with financial problems. In the previous academic year (2022/23), there were 19 recipients of the scholarships, with an average award of £1,853.95 per student. While this is appreciated, it applies to very few students and does not provide widespread support for everyone in tighter financial positions.

Pat Gibbs, sports and student development officer, said: “At Bristol SU, we want our sports groups and societies to be for everyone, no matter what financial situation someone may be in. We require our student groups to be self-funding, especially when it comes to their core activity – as the SU cannot provide this.

“A lot of our student groups’ funding is raised through membership costs. They determine this pricing based on several factors, including what they have on offer to their members, and which league they’re competing in which influences travel costs.

“Our student opportunities team works closely with student leaders to assist with group finances, often exploring the possibility of sponsorships, fundraising and other avenues of income, that can decrease membership costs. Despite this work, we recognise that participating in some of our affiliated sports groups can be very expensive.

“Students can apply for our Activity Hardship Fund, a grant offering students’ applications of up to £150 to support with membership costs, cost of kit or anything else related to the cost of joining our student groups. This grant was tripled in size last year by your Union Affairs Officer, Adam Micheal.

“However, we see a consistent increase in demand for this grant service, so Adam and I are currently working hard to further increase the fund, with the scope to increase the maximum to £200 by the end of this year. This would cover almost all of the membership costs of our student groups.”

A University of Bristol spokesperson said: “We firmly believe that money should not be a barrier to education, which is why we offer a range of financial support packages and more than 100 bursaries and scholarships.

“These include the University of Bristol Bursary, which provides a grant and discounted membership to our sports facilities to thousands of students from lower-income households every year. Sanctuary Scholars receive membership for free.

“Our B:Active programme is free to all students and includes 40 hours of classes and ‘come and try sports’ sessions every week.

“Many globally recognised athletes have been supported through our VC Scholars scholarship and a wider group of Maroon Athletes receive free sports access, free sessions with our coaches and more.

“Recognising that this is a difficult time for many, we have increased our hardship funding and our Digital Support Fund – support for the cost of IT equipment – has more than doubled.

“Students with money worries can talk to one of our trained Money Advisers during daily drop-in sessions and there is a range of useful information on the ‘money advice’ pages of our website.”

*Names have been changed for anonymity

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