Being physically active is a vital part of daily life to enable good health and wellbeing. However, many people face daily barriers to doing physical activity through the job they have, the infrastructure around them, or simply not having the time in the day. But for some, being active is even more problematic. Current data suggests that people with disabilities or learning difficulties are physically less active than the rest of the population, more likely to lead sedentary lifestyles, and more prone to obesity and associated health conditions.

Northwich Multi-Sports Club is aimed at children of all ages with disabilities offering a range of activities including arts and crafts, circus skills, sports activities, integrated dance, and water sports such as kayaking. With support from Active Cheshire, Northwich Multi-Sports Club were able to employ an extra two staff to support the sessions. These new members would not be assigned as one-to-one with any specific child, instead, they remained flexible, responding and reacting to the needs of other children.

As a result of the support, the club noticed a marked difference in their participants. Specifically Jack, Marie, and Mikey*.

Jacks joining in, he’s more active, and Gran is over the moon!

Jack* is a 12-year-old boy who has severe autism and epilepsy. In summer 2017 Jack’s grandmother grew increasingly concerned that Jack “did nothing but sit and rock”, with no attempt to move or interact with other people. Consequently, Jack was very sedentary, something that was affecting his health.

Though sceptical it would help, Jacks grandmother brought him to Northwich Multi-Sports Club to get him socialising and moving more. On arrival, Jack appeared very isolated and detached from the world.

As his Grandmother said, Jack tended to sit and rock, making no attempt to move or interact. But fairly quickly, the club leaders were able to get Jack to interact for short periods of time in sensory play. He also began to respond to instructions and was always cooperative.

While Jacks socialising and interaction was improving, Jack was still essentially sedentary. Unfortunately, because Jack was happy to sit and do relatively little, he was easy to ‘overlook’ when staff were occupied with more challenging children.

The new flexible support staff were challenged with encouraging Jack to move more and get him involved with the activities. By remaining versatile to the needs of the clubs attendees, the staff were able to pick up one activity that they learnt evoked excitement with Jack, while also encouraging movement. This was joining the other children in the sports hall and chasing the other children around.

This has now become a regular game for Jack. Once in the Sports Hall, Jack will now often pick up a ball to play with, or join in with dancing or other activities. Although he cannot follow the rules of the games, Jack is at least now more active and makes attempts to join in and interact. Jack has become more vocal and can regularly be seen smiling and giggling, which is a joy for staff to see, and Gran is over the moon!

Marie, developing independence through movement

Ten-year-old Marie joined Northwich Multi-Sports Club early in 2017. Marie has severe learning difficulties, and in her early weeks with the club, she was reported to be difficult and challenging for the team, with a lot of screaming, crying, and lashing out.

Over the summer of 2017, her attendance at the holiday clubs allowed more significant time and resource to be given to Marie, allowing the team to understand her needs and find strategies that worked for her.

By the end of summer, Marie was much calmer and would interact well with staff on a one-to-one basis. Marie preferred quiet activities such as jigsaws, beads, and construction toys, and generally avoided sports activities.

However, Marie became very dependent on one-to-one attention, despite staff believing she no longer needed that intensity of support. Staff were particularly concerned that they were inhibiting interaction with other children with their concentrated adult attention.

With the addition of the two new support staff, the club were able to slowly distance one-to-one support, removing concentrated contact and replace it with occasional touches from the two new staff. While this took some time for Marie to adjust, with her often asking on arrival “who with me?” and seeming a little confused, with the encouragement from the team Marie started to play alongside the other children.

The hard work put in by Marie and the staff ultimately resulted in Marie following other children into the Sports Hall and encouraging a new development stage for her, including copying behaviour, which has and will inevitably improve her play skills. Marie is happy and her mum is amazed at how much progress she has made.

Mikey: from hesitant participant to active volunteer

Sixteen-year-old Mikey has learning difficulties with complex needs, including mild physical difficulties. Mikey attended Northwich Multi-Sports Club for a number of years and has been an active member. Described as a lovely, polite boy, Mikey is very eager to please. While Mikey has always joined in with the sports activities, he was always a little hesitant, and would often hang back and not volunteer to take part.

With the flexibility the two new members of staff provided, the new staff noticed that Mikey had the potential to progress in the club towards a volunteering role. After discussion with the session leader, Mikey took on small tasks that he could carry out to support sports coaches.

Mikey thrived on the responsibility and is now being put on the Supported Volunteer Programme through the club, with extra activities added over time. As a by-product of his increased responsibilities, Mikey is now taking a much more active role in sports and games. Mikey now realises he is a role model for the younger children and even supports younger children on a one-to-one basis. The club have high hopes for Mikey and believes he will progress into a full volunteering role by 18.