Giving Oxfordshire's disabled people time to shine in sport

Ray Sweeney's martial arts class for people with learning disabilities. Ray is pictured at the front in the middle      Picture: OX69321 Ed Nix

Ray Sweeney's martial arts class for people with learning disabilities. Ray is pictured at the front in the middle Picture: OX69321 Ed Nix

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Witney and West Oxfordshire. Call me on 01865 425483

OXFORDSHIRE is leading the way when it comes to disability sports, according to a county scheme.

The Oxfordshire Sports Partnership (OSP) says that 55.5 per cent of people aged over 16 with non-limiting disabilities and illnesses have taken part in sport in the past 28 days – more than three per cent above the national average.

Some 34 per cent of people with limiting disabilities or illnesses play sport – six per cent above the average.

And disability is no bar to any sport. As well as the more established sportss of cycling and football, other activities – such as karate, archery, bowls, croquet, yoga and pilates – are all available to disabled people.

OSP disability and youth sports officer Lucy Tappin believes participation is higher in the county because there is a focus on it.

She has been in the role for nine years, but claims other areas are playing catch-up.

Ms Tappin, below, said: “We’re probably one of the only counties, especially in the south east, to have the luxury of a dedicated officer.

Oxford Mail:

  • Picture: OX69301 Jon Lewis

“It’s an area where it’s not compulsory to provide the service but we think it’s essential to get people and support them to do more exercise, especially those with a disability.

“We try to ensure that all the partners we work with, like schools and local authorities, are inclusive in the activities they provide.

“But there’s a balancing act because if you do impairment-specific work we’ve got to make sure there’s enough participants to make it a thriving club.”

Just over a third of Oxfordshire people – 34 per cent – with physical impairments play sport, seven per cent higher than nationally. And 25 per cent of people with learning disabilities are active – one per cent higher than the rest of the country.

The OSP, set up in 2005 by Oxford City Council but with a county-wide remit, has two aims, including making mainstream sports more inclusive, as well as creating specific opportunities for disabled people.

Some of its funding is focused, like the £262,000 from Sport England’s Inclusive Sport fund to encourage more than 1,000 people with mental health issues to take up more sport over the next three years.

But the partnership is trying to create a culture where disabled people are just another participant being catered for. Disability and sports development manager Steve Kemp said: “We want it to become the norm where disabled people are part of sport rather than telling people they need to include them.

“We try to imbed disability in everything we do rather than allocating money towards it in particular.”

KARATE can be used as therapy for people with limited movement, according to instructor Ray Sweeney. The 56-year-old from Didcot holds classes around the county for about 50 able-bodied and 150 disabled people as part of his Disabled Karate Federation.

He was recognised at the OSP’s Oxfordshire Sports Awards last November, winning the coach of the year trophy.

Married dad-of-two Mr Sweeney, whose 18-year-old son Christian is autistic, believes karate can make people move for the first time.

Oxford Mail:

  • Participant Jenny Knight enjoys the class    Picture: OX69321 Ed Nix

He said: “If people have no movement skills I can’t teach them to even kick or punch so it’s about much more basic things.

“I will get them to do the reflex actions they couldn’t do as a child.

“I might use balls with bells in them or different textures and shapes to try to find movement in someone, like clenching their fist.

“I usually get some form of response with the slightest bit of movement and when I get that I know I’ve got something to work with. It’s a very slow process and takes a long time but at the end of the day they get results.”

Mr Sweeney is a Fifth Dan black belt and has been an instructor for about 17 years.

ADAPTED sports like boccia give opportunities to people with a range of disabilities. The game - a precision ball sport similar to bowls - is played by about 20 people each week at Witney’s Windrush Leisure Centre.

Marion Clarke, 83, attends the session each week with her husband Raymond, 85, who is disabled on his entire left side after a stroke in November 2011, and their 57-year-old son, also called Raymond.

The Eynsham resident said: “It’s very good for his particular problem because he can sit in his wheelchair and throw the ball with his right hand.

“It gives him something to look forward to because he was an active outdoor person. It doesn’t need a lot of exertion.”

Oxford Mail:

  • Playing Boccia at Windrush Leisure Centre in Witney are from left, Ray Clarke and his son, also Ray, James Sleight, who has bowled, and Bert Cleary  Picture: OX69320 Simon Williams

Oxford Mail:

  • From left, Hannah Dove and her support worker Kim Eyre, Julie Pimm, Davina Pimm (no relation), who has just bowled, Susan Worsley and her support worker Kelly Matthews, Marion Clarke and coach Linda Young   Picture: OX69320 Simon Williams

Coach Linda Young said people with a range of conditions take part, including those with learning disabilities.

She said: “It’s a sport which all abilities can play, whether they need to use a pusher or can bowl it themselves.

“It’s also a social event because everyone enjoys it and has a good time.”

CYCLING has become one of the sports that anyone can take part in. Up to 50 adults attend Wheels for All sessions twice a month at Horspath Athletics and Sports Ground, where they can cycle round the track without danger.

About a dozen youngsters also attend monthly sessions at Witney Artificial Turf pitch in Gordon Way.

A range of disabilities are represented on the track, including visual impairment, dementia, autism, learning difficulties and Parkinson’s disease.

Oxford Mail:

  • Francis Adamberry and volunteer Yvonne Rumble about to be overtaken by Daniel Holloway  Picture: OX69301 Jon Lewis

Mum-of-two Alex Holloway, from Kidlington, has been taking her son Daniel, 23, who has autism and learning disabilities, since February.

She said: “It’s plenty of exercise for him and he did nearly 10km recently.

“Exercise is important to anyone and he seems to enjoy it. It keeps him quite calm.

“He uses the two-wheeled bike. It’s a safe place for him to go round, whereas he would have a bit of trouble on the roads.”

This month they held the first time trial sessions to make it competitive across two, four or six laps.

Lucy Tappin, who organises the sessions on behalf of the OSP, said it had previously been designed for recreational and health purposes.

She added: “A lot of people forget that someone with a disability is just as competitive and wants to win as much as anyone else.’’


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