Sky Sports Sheffield, 9th December

Lewis

What it’s like to work with Valence Primary school

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” Those were the first words I read on the letter in front of me.
Now, I should issue a warning and an apology. It’s not particularly classy to repeat praise for your own organisation, but sometimes it’s hard to resist. I apologise in advance.

Here’s the story: SportInspired works all over the country with all sorts of communities, but we currently have a special relationship with the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. We work with the council, talk to schools, hang out with local sports clubs and generally make ourselves as visible as possible. Felix has basically become a local celebrity! He’s there so much and all in the name of getting the whole borough more active.

We continue traveling and talking to school sports coordinators and PE teachers, asking them how we can help them boost their sports delivery.

One of the schools we work with a lot is Valence Primary – a two site nursery and primary school with just over 1000 pupils in the heart of the borough. When we asked the teachers what they needed most to help inspire their kids to be more active they said it was quite simple: they needed a small amount of funding for swimming sessions for their children with physical and/or behavioural disabilities.

With approximately 30 students in the special educational needs group in a school of more than 1000, it can be hard to meet their various and often hugely differing requirements during sport sessions. Having separate sessions for these children can give them much more specifically tailored teaching, and can often lead to some really fantastic outcomes.

At the very heart of the SportInspired model, is finding and empowering those key local community stakeholders who understand what would make the difference to their pupils. In Paul Squibb, Andrea Wylde, and their support staff, Valence Primary school has an unbelievable array of talented and dedicated individuals that fit the bill. It really is an absolute pleasure supporting their aims, because they always want what’s best for their pupils and work incredibly hard to achieve it. Each and every time Felix came back from Valence Primary, he was smiling ear to ear and exceptionally motivated to have SportInspired help out any way we could.

After a couple of months we received a letter from the school’s Special Educational Needs Coordinator, Andrea Wylde, listing the impacts these sessions have had on the children. These impacts range from an autistic boy coping with sensory changes to a boy with Downs Syndrome who gained the confidence to jump in the pool and put his head under water. It’s a list of truly amazing boundary breaking actions. The unifying factor of the list is a group of children who started the sessions nervous and apprehensive of the pool. Five weeks later they were happy, confident, and actively seeking out more opportunities to swim.

Soon after we received another letter from Andrea – the one I have on my desk now – accompanied by an article from the school magazine. She talks about a boy named Lewis who was terrified of water. Under the careful coaching of the specialist instructors at Becontree Leisure Centre, who built confidence in the pool, helped Lewis achieve his 10 metre, 25 metre and 100 metre badges before completing a staggering 250 metre swim. This all happened within months of the start of his swimming lessons. In short, he LOVES swimming!

But perhaps more importantly than his successes in the pool, Andrea talked about the improvements in Lewis’s ‘attitude and keenness to come to school and his self-esteem.’ By excelling and enjoying swimming, Lewis has started to excel at and enjoy school. He has become a better student, and is also working to improve his general fitness.

The “thank yous” at the beginning of that letter were from Andrea to us, but really we didn’t do any of the things that deserve thanks. We found some funding for the sessions and then the teachers, Special Needs Coordinators, coaches at Becontree Leisure Centre, and the kids themselves did all the hard work and can all count themselves responsible for the positive changes seen in kids like Lewis.

We cannot wait to work with Paul, Andrea, Lewis, and all the staff and pupils at Valence primary school into 2015. So to them we say: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

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Kat Hodge, SportInspired Games Manager
Pete Sorel-Cameron, SportInspired Consultant
Forrest Payne, SportInspired Intern & Editor