On Wednesday 21st September, IMAS Trainers Bronte and Cam attended an online meeting with the House of Lords, to discuss how sport can be made more inclusive and accessible for young people.
This blog is a selection of excerpts from the meeting transcript. We’d like to say a massive thank you and well done to Bronte and Cam, for being superb advocates of the Mixed Ability model on this important platform!
Lord Willis of Knaresborough: We were appointed as a Committee last October, nearly a year ago now, to basically answer this question: how can we make the whole of the nation, not just those that want to solely participate in sport and activities, how can we make everybody fitter, stronger and healthier? This was the main objective.
Today’s session is so important, because one of the things that we’ve learnt is that young people are doing less and less activity. The pandemic was a problem, and what we’re finding is that young people with disabilities have fared worse during the pandemic in terms of accessing physical activity. We’re anxious to hear from you about how we get back on track, how do we make sure that we get some of that ground back?
I’m going to start with you Bronte, if I may, and what I want you to do is just introduce yourself and then tell us when you were at school what were the things you liked best, and least, about PE and sport.
Bronte: At school, I liked some of the PE lessons such as rounders, but I didn’t like some of them because I didn’t feel involved in them and I felt a bit left out.
Lord Willis of Knaresborough: Thank you. Cameron, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Cameron: I am an IMAS expert by experience trainer. I work for International Mixed Ability Sport.
Lord Willis of Knaresborough: And what did you like or not like at school when you were doing PE and games?
Cameron: It was kind of weird for me because I grew up going to SEN schools, until about the age of 10 when I mixed with the mainstream. Some of the games we played were alright, sometimes though we weren’t allowed to play with the mainstream group. It was alright, but it could have been better to play with other people.
Lord Willis of Knaresborough: What would you liked to have done Cameron? Tell me one thing that you really would have liked to have done.
Cameron: I would really liked to have played sport with other people and not be excluded.
Lord Willis of Knaresborough: Not left on your own. Thank you very much.
Baroness Blower: My question, which follows on logically from what Lord Willis was saying, is what would have made PE, and sport in general, more enjoyable for you.
Bronte: One thing that could have made it more fun is around teams. It was alright in primary school because the teachers would pick which team you go in, but as you got older – in high school- you could pick your own teams and I was always the last one to get picked. So it would have been better if they did the same thing, and the PE teachers picked the teams.
Baroness Blower: Cameron, do you want to come in now?
Cameron: Yes. Even though I wanted to play a bit more physical sport, as I was growing up, I was in an SEN school and I played other sports that were different to people in a mainstream school. It would’ve have been great if I had been able to do that. But other than that I liked sport throughout school.
Baroness Blower: Good. Can you think of any one thing that you would have wanted to do?
Cameron: Yes. Rugby and boxing.
Baroness Grey-Thompson: A few of you have already started answering the question that I wanted to know about, which is on where the equipment is and where the local clubs are. So what I’m interested in exploring a bit further is how many of you have tried to join a mainstream club – which is seen as something for non-disabled people – and what your experience of trying to join a mainstream club is.
Cameron: Well it has been difficult because I’ve been in mainstream sport myself. I’ve tried football and I didn’t fit in and they would shove me to the side. I tried kickboxing and I didn’t fit in, because they would laugh at me because of my size and because of my condition. It’s not right really, because I couldn’t fit in and it made me feel unwelcome. Except for one of the coaches who had experience with people with disabilities, and he made me feel welcome.
Lord Willis of Knaresborough: Sorry Baroness Grey-Thompson, can I just come in and ask if anybody, when they were at school, actually had clubs come in to offer them inclusion in their clubs. Did anybody come along, and say come and join our club. (Nobody says yes) Nobody. Tanni, I find that really sad, really disappointing that that was the case.
Cameron: Joining IMAS, Mixed Ability Sports, opened the barriers for me, because the sports that I wasn’t able to do, I can actually do them now. I enjoy it and I feel like I’m part of the club. I’ve got friends and I feel like a part of the family.
Lord Willis of Knaresborough: Fantastic. That’s fantastic.
Cameron: I enjoy playing rugby, I played for the Bumblebees at Bradford and Bingley which has been going since 2010. I right enjoy it.
Lord Willis of Knaresborough: Thanks very much indeed. Baroness Sater, back to you.
Baroness Sater: There’s usually someone that has encouraged you or inspired you to get active or play in sport, and it would be really good to hear from you who that person might have been, whether it be a teacher, coach or a famous sportsperson. Have any of you got somebody that has really inspired you, or encouraged you, to get involved?
Bronte: When I was a teenager, I wasn’t really interested in sport due to being bulled about my mental health when I was in school. However, 8 months ago my sister heard of Mixed Ability Sport for rugby, and my mental health was at the point where I wouldn’t come out of my bedroom, and I wouldn’t talk to anyone, and my sister said why don’t you give it a go as it will get you out. But I thought no, because the same thing will happen again, and I’ll get bullied. I gave it a go, and it’s the best thing that’s happened to me. I just feel included and part of the family.
Baroness Sater: Cameron, did you want to tell us if there is somebody who has inspired and encouraged you to play sport.
Cameron: Yes. The person who encouraged me to play sport was my sports teacher. He was a professional rugby player when he was younger. He died about 12 months ago, and he died on the astro-turf which was quite sad. He was really inspirational, and I hadn’t come across someone who had made you feel as included in sport until I came across IMAS. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be doing sport now.
Baroness Sater: That is a great legacy that he left.
Baroness Blower: I think some of you have answered this question in part, but I’m going to ask you, in what ways do you think that either schools or communities could help you and other people to be more active. We have to make recommendations so it would be really good if you had some suggestion on what things could be done.
Cameron: The thing that I’m doing is to promote Mixed Ability Sports, where people with disabilities and people without disabilities play together, and I think that would be better instead of both of us being apart. If we’re together we can support each other in sport. That’s how we do it. We break those barriers down, so we can play together. That’s what Mixed Ability Sports is about.
Lord Willis of Knaresborough: Thank you. Baroness Sater?
Baroness Sater: We’ve just been touching on some of the barriers in school, but looking back over your school lives, what do you think have been the main barriers to you participating in PE and sport and what could schools do differently?
Bronte: We had different sets at school. If you were in the bottom set you would probably just do basic sports like football and netball, but the higher sets would do more sports and different sports. That’s how it was at my high school, and I didn’t think that it was fair that the set decides what sport that you do. I think it should be all included, and that all the sets do all the sports, and they can try it out.
Baroness Sater: Thank you. Cameron, did you want to say something about what the barriers were for you at school?
Cameron: The barriers for me was that we weren’t allowed to play with the mainstream school as we were an SEN school. As we got better, we did play some sport with the other lot, but it wasn’t as good because we couldn’t keep up with it because of our conditions. But it would be better if we could all join in together rather than being left out.
Lord Willis of Knaresborough: What has really sort of saddened me, is that though it was nearly 30 years since I last taught in a school that pioneered inclusion, that the same problems are arising in today’s session and I found that very sad indeed. But I found you all utterly inspirational in the way in which you have tackled the barriers, the way that you’ve got round them, the way that you have continued to fight for what you should get as your basic rights in terms of being fit and active and joining in a sport. I thank you enormously on behalf of the Committee, we genuinely appreciate what you’ve done. I think my colleagues would say that we’ve had a lot of sessions over the last year and this has been one of the highlights for me. Thank you all very much indeed.