Kate Hardcastle MBE, founder of Women in Sport North (WISN), pioneers inclusivity in sport for women and girls in the UK. When Kate’s not at her day job as the leading ‘go-to’ business expert on consumer insight for national TV and media, she’s making steps to ensure future generations of women have access to sports.
Women in Sport North ensures that those working to engage women and girls in sport are able to fulfill their true potential. By enabling a support network, a bi-annual conference and networking events, the charity is transforming sport for the benefit of every woman and girl in the UK. Now in its sixth year, the movement has supported over 1000 people and created alliances & partnerships across professional & volunteer networks.
Opportunities for women and girls in sports are few and far between in areas outside of the M25 and even more so in economically deprived areas. Geographical barriers aren’t the only obstacle as prior to the formation of WISN, events were siloed between particular sports. Kate shares that “For instance, if you were a hockey organisation, you would go to National Hockey conferences, and if you were a football organisation, there were football conferences, but there wasn’t really a space for people who were trained to do the job of getting more women and girls in sport to feel connected and talk to each other about everything from body confidence to menopause.”
Due to government plans sticking to development projects in 2025 and 2030, Kate became critically aware that a generation may have missed their chance in engaging in sports. Whilst government plans are a key factor in disengagement, the deeper issue lies within women’s early experiences with sports. Like many women and girls, Kate has faced these barriers growing up:
“When I was a kid in the classroom at school, I was told I couldn’t play rugby – it had to be hockey, or netball, of which I couldn’t do either. In fact, I was benched because I didn’t show natural talent at it leaving me to become disengaged with the sport. I think the disengagement took about 45 minutes. That was it. And my dad was heartbroken thinking, ‘What am I going to do if my daughter doesn’t have the ability to tackle things like sports?’ You know, sports enables you to build rapport with other people, you learn teamwork, fitness and health, which is so important for looking after yourself.”
“I didn’t realise that we were throwing a stone in the water that would carry on bouncing.” There’s no doubt WISN has inspired women and girls everywhere to engage with sports. Notably, inspired by a WISN conference, Jo Moseley, 54 began paddleboarding. In the summer of 2019 Jo became the first woman to stand up paddle 162 miles from Liverpool to Goole along the Leeds Liverpool Canal and Aire & Calder Navigation. She picked up litter, raising awareness of plastic pollution in waterways for charity. Like Jo, Fatima Patel, Managing Editor at Asian Standard & Asian Sunday set up Inspirational Women’s Charity Cricket (IWCC), an all-female cricket tournament enabling women who don’t play cricket professionally or otherwise, to play cricket for charity and to inspire future generations to take up the sport.
As someone who’s always championed the underdog, Kate notes whilst things are changing, there’s still room for improvement. “We are merely baton carriers for the next generation, it’s not for us to get across the finish line, we’re not going to do it. And if we think that’s the case, every International Women’s Day, I’m afraid, it’s probably going to be a bit of a anticlimax, because there’s so much work to do, you know, as a mother of two daughters and a son. If we don’t make change, if we don’t shift the gear, then we don’t get it done.”
On what the general public can do to build these conversations and opportunities for women and girls in sport, Kate says: “If you’ve got any capacity, see if you can do it, it doesn’t have to be perfect – whatever it is. For instance, if you you want to help to have graffiti in classes for children in an economically deprived area. Just don’t let anything limit you in terms of well, it’s only six people or I can only afford for it to be on Tuesdays or whatever it is. If you affect or change the life of anyone, it is a massive difference.”