Sports Inclusion Day unites the community

Over 80 people with learning disabilities or additional challenges from across Croydon and south London came together to take part in the Palace for Life Foundation Sports Inclusion Day on Friday 13 April.

The free event for over-16s was held at Monks Hill Sports Centre in Croydon and participants had the chance to play their favourite sports as well as trying out something new, including football, basketball, tennis, archery and dance.

Participants celebrate a goal

Palace for Life Foundation Disability Manager Michael Harrington, whose role is funded through the Premier League/BT Disability Fund, explained: “These free Sports Inclusion Open Days are great fun and one of the highlights of the year for me. It is so amazing to see people from all over our community coming together to do what so many of us love, playing sport.

“Many of the people here today live in 24 hour care homes, or attend daily Croydon Local Authority resource bases, and can have very limited access to any sort of physical activity. To be able to offer the chance for people to play their favourite sports, and to try some new ones, in a safe and fun environment where they can make new likeminded friends is wonderful.”

The majority of participants came from Croydon Local Authority Care Homes or Resource Bases and from Mencap. The Foundation works closely with the Council’s 0-25 SEND Youth Service, which offers out of school hours respite care, and the Active Lifestyles Team, who will bring young adults to this event from a variety of local schools and organisations.

Palace for Life Foundation coaches, along with those from the Croydon Active Lifestyles Team, Slide Dance and Frylands Wood Scout Outdoor Centre all showed great professionalism and enthusiasm to make sure that everybody had a great day.

Andrew Slegg, from Croydon Council’s Learning Disability Commissioning Team, has worked with people with learning disabilities for over 30 years and helped to organise the event.

He said: “Days like this are just fantastic for everyone to be out in the fresh air, get healthy and fit and be included in their communities as equal citizens, playing and doing things that everybody else does.

“The opportunity to come and play football and have fun is fantastic, but there are also real health benefits and the chance to make friends and build relationships that can lead to other social opportunities.

“Many people here are fans Palace too, so that connection through Palace for Life is a real bonus!”

Participant poses with Palace and Nandos mascots

One of those taking part was 26-year-old Anthony, who has recently started attending weekly football through the Foundation’s Advanced Learning Disability Group. He said: “It’s been very interesting, we’ve been doing skills and we played a football match. I came last year and it was good, there’s a lot of stuff to do. I enjoy playing football and it’s something to do in my local area, so it’s been fun.”

Andrew Slegg, who has known Anthony for a number of years, spoke of the changes he has seen in him since he started playing football more regularly through the Foundation.

“He’s just grown and grown, I’ve spoken to his coach and he said he’s a really good defender and has been improving each week. That confidence that he’ll get through the football will just grow and be used in the rest of his life and help him in other areas of his life too.”

Another of those particularly enjoying the football was Palace fan Natasha, 18. She said: “I’ve scored six goals today and made some new friends! I don’t play for a team now but I really want to play for Crystal Palace and be a Crystal Palace cheerleader.”

Playing in the same team as Natasha was fellow 18-year-old, Matthew: “I’ve enjoyed the session – I really like playing football and scoring goals! The coaches have helped me get better and I like seeing my mates.”

Paul Funnell, Disability Lead Officer for Youth at Croydon Council, who works closely with the Foundation reiterated the importance of days like this: “Not everyone is regularly taking part in sporting activities each week, so we hope that days like this encourage people to go on to take part in more regular activities, where they can meet other people and enjoy socialising.”

Speaking about Matthew, Paul added: “I’ve been working with him for a number of years, he likes basketball as well, but he’s a big football fan. He comes to our groups on a regular basis, three times a week. He’s very competitive, he just loves taking part in sport!”

Participants try out archery

The event, which was sponsored by Nandos, was also supported by a number of volunteers through the PL/BT Disability Fund, who helped to run the different activities. One of them, Max, talked about how he came to be involved.

BT Volunteer Max at Sports Inclusion Day

“I’ve done things for local churches, theatres and things like that in the past, I’ve always liked to get involved so I thought I’d give it a try and I’ve really enjoyed it.

“They [the participants] have absolutely loved it! It doesn’t matter how old they are, everyone is just really enjoying themselves.”