Disability Sport and Participation

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 5th December 2019.

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Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

I start by declaring an interest: I am the honorary president of the Dunbartonshire Disability Sports Club, and I have been since 2013. I intend, therefore, to be unashamedly parochial, as a lot about the model that has been developed in Dunbartonshire can be commended to other areas.

Others have talked about elite athletes, and it is right to praise their achievements, but I want to talk about the young disabled people in my area. In 2009, Tommi Orismaa, football development officer at West Dunbartonshire Council, was taking a group of young disabled people and their parents to a game of football in Falkirk. Why Falkirk? I do not know, but during the journey, the parents spoke about the very few opportunities that there are for children and young people with additional support needs to participate in sport, particularly after school hours.

As a result of that feedback, three public meetings were organised and 135 people from across the local disability community in West Dunbartonshire came along to discuss the lack of physical activity opportunities for children and young people with additional support needs. The decision to create a volunteer-led disability sports club was unanimously agreed to, and so the Dunbartonshire Disability Sports Club was born. The club held its first multisports session in March 2010, with around 27 children and young people with additional support needs in attendance.

Over the past 10 years, the club has expanded its activities. Having started with one multisports session per week, it is currently delivering five physical activity sessions per week for 56 members. The club works in partnership with West Dunbartonshire Leisure Trust, the council, local sports clubs, Children in Need, Shared Care Scotland, the Big Lottery Fund and STV to create club activities such as swimming, football, multisports, residential sports camp and the disability sport youth group. New activities evolve all the time.

During one of the residential sports camps, parents’ health was raised, and the club acted and started a parents’ group. Since 2017, the club provides weekly spin classes and massage and fitness classes for parent and carers who are affected by disability. The club has taken a holistic approach.

The unexpected benefit of the club has been the connections and support groups that the families have created over the years. Families brought together by the club go on holiday together, take the children on social outings together and, importantly, are able to talk to other parents in a similar situation about their challenges and how they cope.

Let me tell members, in the words of two mums, about the impact that the club makes. The first mum said:

“Liam is autistic, with severe learning difficulties. At a disability tennis session we attended, we were aware that all of the children knew each other and we were joining an already established club. One of the club organisers, Allan Clark, approached me and gave me information on the Dunbartonshire Disability Sports Club. This was local to where we lived, so we decided to give it a try. At the time, we were struggling to get Liam to engage with anything; he was a teenager struggling to fit in and connect with others. Most of the things we tried, he showed absolutely no interest in and wanted to leave after a short time. When we arrived at the multisports club, Liam recognised some of the children he went to school with and, although he didn’t join in, he didn’t want to leave. The coaches constantly encouraged Liam to participate and, slowly, he started to join in the activities. With the support from the coaches and other members of the club, he now participates in all of the sessions.

Over the two years that Liam has attended the club he has become more confident, more active, less isolated and communicates more with the group and at home. On arriving at the multisports session on Saturdays, he runs from the car park into the sport hall in front of me and has joined in the activity before I get into the hall. He now also attends the swimming sessions on Sundays and is enjoying learning to swim.

Being part of the club has contributed to Liam being more confident when interacting with other groups; he is more active and is more comfortable in trying to be part of new experiences.”

This is what Max’s mum had to say:

“My son Max has learning difficulties and was very isolated and lacked confidence to take part in most activities as he thought he was getting judged by other kids for his lack of ability to play games and sports. Max was not interested in sports and physical activity.

Since joining the club in 2017 it has provided him with an environment where he feels comfortable and confident to take part in sport without feeling judged. He participates in weekly multisports sessions and weekly swimming sessions and loves to play football (before joining the Club he would never kick a ball with other children).

His newly discovered confidence has resulted in him trying after school basketball, and he participated in a school football tournament earlier this year. His school has also seen a difference in his confidence and behaviour and awarded him with a special achievement award for PE in May. The changes to Max’s confidence have had a positive impact on our whole family, and we are so grateful for the work Dunbartonshire Disability Sports Club does for children in the community.”

One could not put it any better than those two mums have done. Sport for disabled people is inclusive, empowering and builds confidence. It helps participants and their families and it would not happen without volunteers such as Allan Clark and the coaches who do so much to make sport accessible. Let us have more of it, please. That requires more support from every level of government.

Not to be outdone by Fulton MacGregor, I want to invite the minister—indeed, both ministers—to visit Dunbartonshire Disability Sports Club.