Groundbreaking stride for inclusive athletics

Mencap & England Athletics

15 people with a learning disability take part in innovative athletics pilot in Bexley, London

Mencap, Special Olympics GB (SOGB) and England Athletics yesterday announced a joint programme to make athletics more inclusive for people with a learning disability. The announcement came at the launch of the first pilot session in Bexley, London.

The London 2012 Paralympic Games showed that disabled people can achieve magnificent things in sport, yet almost 9 in 10 sport clubs throughout the UK have seen no change in the number of disabled people joining their club since the Games*.

This could be due to the significant barriers people with a learning disability face when it comes to participating in sport. More than half (51%) of sports clubs in the UK do not have facilities for disabled people to take part in sports, and almost two-thirds (63%) of sports clubs do not have suitably trained staff**.

The pilot project, launched yesterday at Bexley Mencap, set about removing some of these barriers people with a learning disability face when wanting to take part in athletics. The two-hour session, involving members and volunteers from Bexley Mencap, consisted of a group discussion and a practical running/jogging-based activity.

Not only did the session provide people with a learning disability with the opportunity to try out running and jogging, but also gave England Athletics the chance to find out what people with a learning disability think about running and jogging. A total of 22 people were involved in the session, including 15 participants with a learning disability, 3 volunteers, and representatives from Mencap, SOGB and England Athletics.

There was great feedback from participants, with all of them saying they enjoyed the session and would like to do it again. One participant said, “That was brilliant! Can we do it again next week?”, with another participant saying, “I wish we could do this all day.” One participant realised the health benefits associated with jogging and physical activity, saying: “I’ve always thought I should start jogging and give up smoking; this has made up my mind”.

Ian Carpenter, National Sport Manager for Mencap said:

“We know that people with a learning disability take part in less sporting activities than people who do not have a learning disability, largely due to significant barriers. We are excited to be working with England Athletics to break down these walls and make taking part in sport a more enjoyable and viable option for people with a learning disability.”

Andy Heffer, Director of Sports and Development Director for Special Olympics GB, said:

“Sport can have a transformative effect on the lives of people with a learning disability, giving them opportunities for enjoyment and achievement and participating in a sport like athletics also brings significant health benefits. We hope that this is just the start of many such sessions across the country.”

Tamsin Fudge, National Disability Manager for England Athletics, said:

“England Athletics is proud to be working in partnership with Mencap and Special Olympics GB to deliver specific participation goals detailed within our strategic plan. With an action plan for 2014-15 in place, we look forward to enabling more athletes with an intellectual impairment to reach their athletics goals in this, and years to come. Our partnership will expand the athletic experience for individuals, and increase the appeal of athletics both recreationally and competitively.

“England Athletics is committed to ensure that athletes of all abilities are able to participate equitable within athletics. England Athletics seeks to develop a focus on inclusion, to ensure that disabled athletes can participate as fully as possible in our great sport.

“The focus group and taster session with Bexley Mencap was a great example of how England Athletics, Mencap and Special Olympics GB will work together. This pilot will create the foundation for further collaborations nationally and will be the beginning of a regular Run England session in Bexley, supported by the Run! London Activator for Bexley, Lynne Atkinson and Michelle the Run England leader. Thank you to the participants and volunteers who made the session such a success and great fun.”

The participants loved the session so much that there are now plans to deliver regular running and jogging sessions in Bexley for people with a learning disability.

Mencap Sport, SOGB and England Athletics plan to replicate the success in Bexley in other areas across the country.

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About Mencap

There are 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities.

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