I’ve always had a keen interest in sport, and I’m actually a proud season ticket holder at Stoke. When I go I take my two nieces along to the games with me because they’re football mad!
I’ve always had a keen interest in sport since I was young and am a regular golf player and used to play hockey and cricket. My interest in volunteering and sports led to me becoming a games maker volunteer in the 2012 Olympics shooting events.
On a side note, I used to make life-size Daleks when I was a Materials Manager for a fibreglass company and have also received an invitation to Downing Street!
What about your background, can you tell us a bit about how you got to your position? Does it stem from your experience working in sport or have you always had an interest in helping those with disabilities?
Well I’ve always been interested in sport through my volunteer roles in the sports clubs I played in, so started volunteering in 2006 with the Crewe and & Nantwich Sport Development Team. This was when I was carrying out my Coaching & Sport Development degree at MMU .
My involvement with the team as a volunteer and casual coach gave me a great insight to all the different activity programmes they ran, and from here I became a Coach Development Officer in 2010 in the team, which is now part of Cheshire East Council.
The main focus of the role was encouraging community sports clubs to achieve an accreditation standard (club mark) and help volunteers to get qualified.
As part of the role there was a small element of disability as we then ran one weekly activity session in Macclesfield.
The role then evolved as we began to develop a disability programme and run more activity sessions, so in 2015 my role changed to Disability & Inclusion Lead for the newly formed leisure trust Everybody Sport & Recreation.
As the role has grown over the years, so has my interest (and passion) for ensuring people with a disability or impairment have the same opportunities to take part in sport, physical activity and active recreation.
Why do you think it’s so important that we have a dedicated week to promote the importance of learning disabilities?
I think it’s so important because it not only raises awareness of the impairments of individuals and the challenges they face everyday, but also helps to promote the positive work that is going on in the community that people are not aware of.
The London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics helped to raise the awareness of disability sport and encourage more people with such conditions to take part in sport, which can only be seen as a positive thing.
But while it has helped to raise the profile of those with more obvious impairments such as physical, hearing, visual etc, I still think there is more to be done to highlight those with ‘hidden’ impairments such as being on the autistic spectrum or having a learning disability.
Please tell us a bit about the programmes on offer at Everybody Sport & Recreation for those with disabilities, is there a particular age range that you target?
Our Ability for All programme has a range of inclusive activities for all ages with a disability or a long- term condition, encouraging them to have an active and healthy lifestyle to help with their personal wellbeing.
We have a whole host of activities for children & young people as well as adults.
For juniors we run a range of activities which have been adapted and adjusted to meet the needs of the children, young people and families.
We run regular soft play sessions where we have exclusive use of a soft play centre, multi-sport sessions (activity hubs) sports halls, and host trampoline sessions where people can bounce for fun or work towards a qualification.
On offer is also our inclusive gym session for 13-18year olds, our holiday sessions, and inclusive cycling using our range of adapted bikes.
Finally we have our Alpha Swim Scheme which provides swimming lessons but in smaller groups, and these are more-fun orientated.
How are these programmes likely to evolve and develop in the future to ensure you can keep providing a variety of sessions for those with learning disabilities?
We are looking to evolve the programmes for adults, but currently have our Activ8 adults gym sessions at Crewe Lifestyle Centre and the Barony Sports Complex in Nantwich.
We also have our Aqua Relax session which is a pool session for people with more long-term conditions to encourage them to move more, increase everyday activities, and be more active.
This is alongside the bespoke activity sessions and events for community groups that we run, to encourage individuals to become more active and have fun.
Over the past 12 months we have really innovated and developed in our approach, delivering activity sessions for various stroke groups in Crewe and Macclesfield, the IRIS Vision Centre in Crewe, along with various adult day services groups across the borough.
Only last month we did an inclusive cycling session for The Acorn Centre which was in Team Voice.
We are mindful however that not everybody wants to be active in a group or team and some prefer to exercise on their own. For these people there is the Everybody Options concessionary membership scheme to enable them to go swimming, use the gym or attend fitness classes at a leisure centre that’s near to them.
What would you say are the main benefits of your programmes to those who take up these programmes?
When people think of sport they automatically think of the gym or getting involved in competitive sport. They don’t think that by having fun they can be active at the same time to help improve their health.
The main emphasis of the Ability for All programmes are to come and have a go at an activity, but also come to have some fun!
People don’t realise how much activity they’ve done because they are enjoying themselves. For example at our cycling sessions, individuals will ride the bikes for 30 minutes or more before having a break, without thinking about how much physical activity they’ve done during that time.
As well as the obvious benefits to their physical and mental wellbeing there is also the social interaction with their peers that comes with it.
Not forgetting the benefits to parents so they can have a break if they wish. This is alongside the social aspect and benefits that come with talking to other parents in order to share problems or success, so the family don’t feel as isolated.
Do you have the same individuals returning to get involved with these programmes or is there an influx of new people all the time?
Generally we have a regular cohort of people who attend our activity programmes on a regular basis. We also get some individuals or families who attend occasionally when they can such as holiday sessions who can’t attend on a regular basis due to other commitments.
So what would you say is the best part of your role?
The best part of my role is working with the people that attend these sessions, and seeing them smile or hearing them laugh because then it shows that they are having fun. Especially when the individual has done something which they didn’t think they could do, something because of their disability – this is very rewarding!
But don’t be fooled if you get something right they are just as quick to let you know you’ve got it wrong!
Do you think attitudes to those with learning disabilities are changing? As a country, are we doing enough to encourage those with learning disabilities to get involved in sport?
Generally I think attitudes to disability sport are changing and improving. Events such as the Special Olympics are helping to improve awareness of people with a learning disability or other ‘hidden’ disabilities such as autism.
However personally, I think this is not just limited to sports. We should be doing more to ensure services in our communities are more inclusive for people with a disability, long term health conditions, and the elderly because we are ultimately all living longer.
For more information about our Ability for All programme please our web page or email: [email protected] or call 07506 317055