While the gold medals flow in for Britain’s Paralympic heroes, people with disabilities in Cumbria are getting the chance to become Paralympians of the future.
Over recent years, a host of new opportunities have sprung up across the county for disabled children, teenagers and adults to take part in sport thanks to Active Cumbria - the sport and physical activity partnership hosted by Cumbria County Council.
And a current Cumbrian Paralympian has praised the disabled sporting activities on offer in Cumbria for helping him achieve his Paralympic dream.
Swimmer Thomas Young, who won Active Cumbria’s Cumbria Sports Award disabled sports category in 2010, is competing in the London 2012 Paralympics.
The 21-year-old from Newbiggin near Kirkby Lonsdale was born with one arm and two club feet, and yet this has not prevented him from reaching the pinnacle of his sport.
He said: “I don’t think I’d have been able to get to the level I’ve got to if it hadn’t been for the support of disability sports facilities in Cumbria.
“I started swimming in Kendal when I was five or six and I haven’t looked back since.
“Being involved in the Paralympics in front of a home crowd has been an amazing experience, especially as I just missed out on Beijing.
“The important thing is that children with disabilities are treated the same as able-bodied people and that is now starting to happen and disabled sport in Cumbria is improving.”
This improvement is coming about in a variety of ways. From the creation of disability sport community sports clubs to inclusive events at the Cumbria School Games, there are now a variety of activities that could help Cumbria produce the next Ellie Simmonds, David Weir, Hannah Cockcroft, or Thomas Young
And while there is much focus on developing high-achieving disabled sports men and women, the activities on offer are aimed at all abilities from those with their sights set on future Paralympic Games to those who want to take up a sport simply as a hobby or a social activity.
These activities and organisations include:
The Cumbria Sport Equity Alliance (formerly Cumbria Disability Sports Association)
This forum, comprising of a wide diverse range of providers and deliverers (in excess of 100 members) all with an interest in supporting disability sport in the county has been facilitated by Active Cumbria, The forum continues to develop and co-ordinate the planning of sports provision for disabled people in Cumbria.
Children’s Able and Disabled Sport (CADs) Programme
A series of inclusive holiday sports activities have been delivered across the county providing opportunities for both disabled and able bodied children and young people. Many hundreds of participants have attended these activities since they were first piloted in west Cumbria in 2009.
Eight multi-sports clubs for young people with disabilities have been established in the county.
Disability Sport Specific Community Sports Clubs
Active Cumbria has supported the development of 24 disability sport specific community sports clubs in the county.
The CanDance project has created six new inclusive youth dance groups, one in each of Cumbria’s districts, as part of Sport England’s Sportivate Programme. The project was created after a consultation revealed a lack of inclusive dance opportunities for young people with learning disabilities such as autism. In June, the project was awarded the best Sportivate project in the NW region and went on to pick up silver placing in the national Sportivate Awards from Hugh Robertson MP, Sport and Olympics Minister in London.
While there is plenty to celebrate about disabled sport provision in Cumbria, the county council and Active Cumbria recognise there is still much to do.
Bruce Lawson, partnership manager (development) for Active Cumbria, said: “We are very proud of the achievements and progress that has been made; however, as we move forward we want to ensure that sport becomes a practical lifestyle choice for people with disabilities.
“Currently, just one in six disabled adults plays sport regularly compared to one in three non-disabled adults. In Cumbria we want to tackle this opportunity gap and see more disabled people participating and gaining all the benefits that sport can bring.”
Councillor Liz Mallinson, Cumbria County Council's cabinet member for equality and diversity, said: “The lasting achievement of Paralympics will be upon social attitudes towards disability and ability.
"The games have shown that we need to continue to tackle the barriers that limit the potential of disabled people – from transport, to more flexible care packages, from access to advice and advocacy to more accessible buildings.”
Photographs by Chris West Photography.
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