Women’s sport has never had a higher profile nor a larger fan base – but there is still so much work to do to connect girls and women into sport. 

The success of the Lionesses and women’s sport in 2022 showed that increasing numbers of people want to watch it. Yet to drive participation, continued visibility through role models and increased grassroots activity will be key to inspire girls to find their own belonging and space in sport. 

Recent research from the charity ‘Women in Sport’ revealed that girls as young as five years old feel they don’t belong in sport. The report found that over a half of parents said their daughter had felt excluded, with a quarter confirming their daughter had been told ‘it wasn’t for girls’.

Whilst shocking, we know behaviours to limit the ambitions of girls are prevalent in society. It’s why as parents we have chosen to educate our daughters in a single-sex environment where there is no glass ceiling on achievement. Yet, engagement in sport, as in anything in life, is not universal, which is why we must continue to innovate to engage and change.

In May, our multi-award winning Reading Festival of Sport @ The Abbey goes town-wide as part of the Reading Childrens’ Festival. Building on our vision to broaden opportunity and access to a wider range of sports for students in our community, our expert PE staff and student sport leaders will once more be partnering with elite athletes and community sport clubs. In doing so, igniting interest in children aged 3-7, as a direct response to the ‘Women in Sport’ findings.  

In September, The Abbey will bring together the largest gathering of young elite athletes in the UK when we host the prestigious GSA ‘Girls Go Gold’ Conference. 500 students and PE staff from more than 35 schools will convene for a day of masterclasses and inspirational talks by leading athletes and coaches. 

The women’s sport movement shines a light on female role models willing to share their stories of triumph over adversity, hard work and achievement. One of those, Dame Katherine Grainger DBE, Olympian and Chair of UK Sport, will be the opening keynote speaker for ‘Girls Go Gold’ at The Abbey in September. Her pursuit of achieving her dream of Olympic gold in rowing at her fifth successive games was one of the most memorable stories of the London 2012 Olympics.  As women continue to set records and reach new peaks, it’s exciting to experience how these female athlete role models are growing their social impact and inspiring the next generation.

Creating high-impact, relevant and meaningful experiences beyond the classroom is the crux of our work in the Engagement & Development Office. We identify opportunity and need to build networks between current students, alumnae, people and organisations across Reading and beyond, creating unique and bespoke learning opportunities in collaboration with our academic staff. In doing so we are creating an environment for exploration, self-discovery and lifelong learning, preparing our students with the skills and knowledge to be leaders and changemakers in their futures, rooted in The Abbey’s principles of confidence, purpose and joy. 

Our programme of engagement sport activity will continue to focus on participation and belonging, promoting breadth of experience and access to grassroots sports. In doing so, we hope to build lifelong passions and behaviours, resilience and leadership skills as well as shape the role models for today and the future.

Marianne Clarke, Director of Engagement & Development

Julie Bushrod, Alumnae, Engagement & Development Officer

The Engagement & Development Office would like to thank our students, staff and parents who are supporting this journey, as well as the many athletes and sport organisations with whom we’ve collaborated. 

Adrian Moorehouse OBE – Olympian
Kayla Bell – Paralympian
Sophie Drakeford Lewis – Team England (Abbey Alumna)
Louise Sugden – Team England
Emma Uren – Team GB
Kelly Simm – Team GB
Maria Tsaptsinos – Team England (Abbey Alumna)
Anna Kessel – Director, Sky Sports Development / formerly Women’s Sport Editor at The Telegraph
University of Reading
Reading Athletics Club
Albatross Diving Club
Reading Women’s Football Club
Reading Borough Council
Reading Sports Personality Awards
Reading Girls Rugby at Reading RFC
Reading Bowling Club
IWG Women & Sport
M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment
Getty Images
Well HQ
Youth Sport Trust