rugby team parading through town for LGBTQIA+


A play developed through an innovative research and knowledge exchange partnership with local LGBTQIA+ rugby club, the Hull Roundheads and funded by Wellcome Trust, delivered and supported by The British Science Association.

Project summary

The Challenge

For too long, LGBTQ+ individuals have encountered hurdles and stigmatisation that deterred them from pursuing their passion for sports.

The Approach

A combination of research, theatre, and community engagement intersect to drive change and amplify the voices of the LGBTQ+ community in sports.

The Outcome

This project demonstrates that inclusivity in sports is not merely an aspiration but an achievable reality.

Lead academics

Funded by

The Challenge

Five years ago, Hull Roundheads, the first LGBTQ+ sports team in Hull, took a bold step to eliminate barriers faced by the LGBTQ+ community in sports. Guided by the global mission of International Gay Rugby (IGR) to eradicate homophobia and transphobia in rugby, they embarked on an inspiring journey.

The Challenge they faced was not just to establish themselves as a pioneering LGBTQ+ sports team but to confront the institutional and cultural barriers that had historically deterred LGBTQ+ individuals from fully participating in sports.

Although acceptance of LGBTQ+ people in sports has accelerated rapidly since the IGR was formed in 2020, covert homophobia, overt transphobia and other forms of exclusion still persist. This project has spotlighted the complex and pervasive challenges that lie behind almost half of LGBTQ+ individuals in the UK still finding sports unwelcoming or intimidating – and discovers how the Roundheads have overcome this to become the fastest growing sports club in the city.

This pioneering movement aims to forge a new path towards inclusivity in sports, transcending the boundaries of the rugby field and inspiring change within and beyond Hull.

rugby team stood together under the scoring post
“The struggles faced by one team in Hull do not stand in isolation, they are the experiences of people all over the world and we’re hoping to start a change that ripples through the sporting community and potentially beyond that."
Dr Lucy Fielding

Dr Lucy Fielding

Lecturer in Drama and Theatre Practice

The Approach

Safer: The Story of the Roundheads

Powered by funding from the Wellcome Trust, which is managed and supported by the British Science Association, The Ideas Fund is a unique model, which offers the Roundheads, as the community partner, an opportunity to drive the project idea and be matched with a researcher from the University – to create the play Safer, to enhance mental wellbeing, the theme of the fund, by valuing the voices of the team through knowledge exchange between the two partners.

Dr Sarah-Jane Dickenson, as the original researcher delved deep into the motivations and obstacles that LGBTQ+ community members encounter in their quest for sports involvement. This comprehensive exploration led to the creation of "Safer," a compelling 50-minute play. A combination of research, knowledge exchange, live theatre, and community engagement intersect to drive change and amplify the voices of the LGBTQ+ community in sports.

The project is piloting in schools and colleges, offering a performance of the play and a workshop after – led by Dr Lucy Fielding. This educational strand is working with young people to discuss themes of inclusion, exclusion and toxicity; specifically addressing banter. By discussing specific characters and the journey they go through, young people are able to highlight problems and solutions within the context of the play without having to discuss the personal experiences of themselves or their peers; creating a safe space for discussion. This aspect of the project aims to support schools and colleges improve their understanding and capacity to be inclusive both within and outside of a sports setting, centralising the voices of young people.

In partnership with Active Humber, a further pilot is working with community sports groups in the region to spotlight the experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals in other sports, both at grassroots and elite level (taking advantage of the University’s partnership with Team GB to do so). Exploring how the stories of Safer resonate with their own efforts to further inclusion, these clubs will work with researchers to articulate and amplify their visions of what an ideal inclusive sports club should look like in the future.

Performance of Safer
Using the Ideas Fund to hire researchers who encouraged the Roundheads to tell their stories with such honesty and intimacy, has been transformative: generating a work that resonates so universally with other peoples’ experiences of exclusion and the desire for a ‘safe’ space to be their authentic selves.
Dr David Eldridge

Dr David Eldridge

Senior Lecturer in American Studies

The Impact

"Safer" goes beyond the stage, serving as a catalyst for transformative conversations. Following each riveting performance, audiences openly share their deeply personal stories, creating a rich tapestry of experiences that resonate far beyond Hull's borders. The play's influence extends well beyond its hometown, as exemplified by its presentation at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in August 2022.

This project, born out of the determination of a local sports team, demonstrates that inclusivity in sports is not merely an aspiration but an achievable reality. "Safer" stands as a testament to the power of storytelling, theatre, and community engagement, inspiring essential dialogues and making a profound mark. The impact of the project illuminates the profound and lasting influence of "Safer" as it sparks essential dialogues, challenging existing norms, and inciting change on a global scale.

theatre group for SAFER stood together for photo

Next steps

We are working in partnership with Active Humber to work with four community sports clubs in the region. The aim is to explore and amplify our research into providing inclusive spaces, promoting changes in the culture and policies of sports clubs and the experiences of LGBTQ+ members and players.