By Scott Warrington (pictured), director of School Lettings Solutions.
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children get around an hours’ worth of exercise each day – yet research shows that only one in four children in the UK are currently fulfilling this.
This is an issue experienced by many people living with disabilities. Research from the English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS) showed that four in five disabled people are currently not leading an active lifestyle – despite seven in 10 expressing a desire to increase the amount of physical activity they are engaged in.
The importance of taking part in group activities
So, how can children living with disabilities become more active? Well, the recommended one hour a day does not have to come solely through taking part in sport, but can also be gained through involvement in general leisure activities with other children. Taking part in group activities, such as theatre clubs, dance, and soft play, is essential for children to make new friends, develop their self-confidence and inspire their full physical, social and emotional development. Put simply, children who live an active lifestyle – this can be anything from playing organised sports, to exploring in the park with friends – tend to feel much healthier and happier.
Growing up as a child comes with its challenges at the best of times, but for those children living with disabilities, they often face many more difficulties. The value of being surrounded by like-minded individuals who are going through similar situations cannot be overstated, and helps to ensure that young people always have friends and mentors to open up to and talk through their problems with. This means they will never feel that they are battling their issues alone.
Lack of access
The issue we currently have in the UK is that the vast majority of children living with disabilities simply do not have the same access to leisure facilities as their peers – in fact, disability charity Scope found that six in 10 families thought their disabled children did not have fair access to leisure activities. From my own experience of growing up in Lancashire with a sister who has both mental and physical disabilities, I know that finding local and accessible facilities, along with activity providers, can be difficult. This can be down to expertise held within local clubs and groups, or the facilities themselves not being accessible or fit for purpose from a disability perspective.
Making sure that children living with impairments have access to extracurricular activities is particularly important because, while schools may have schemes in place to cater for these children, this does not account for the time they spend outside of school.
Research suggests that more than half (55%) of parents cite a lack of suitable local leisure facilities as a major barrier to entry for their child when it comes to getting involved with local community groups. So with that said, how can we provide these children with more opportunities to become better integrated with their local area?
Encouraging schools to become community hubs
Poor accessibility to local leisure facilities is currently a major barrier that is holding children back from being able to join local community groups. But, the answer to this issue is simple – bring the groups to them.
What we mean by this is that local schools, colleges and academies can play a vital role in getting these children more involved in their local community as they have fantastic sports pitches, halls and classrooms that will be much easier to access. And for the most part, these facilities are usually lying empty and unused on evenings, weekends and during school holidays. SLS even works with a specialist school in the North West, which has facilities – such as swimming pools and sensory rooms – that provide the perfect platform for young people with special needs to be safe, comfortable and engaged within their local community.
This solution makes perfect sense to us, considering that there are thousands more schools than leisure centres in the UK, most of which have wonderful facilities readily available. In fact, research shows us that 39% of the UK’s sporting and leisure facilities are located on school sites.
This also solves the inaccessibility problem, as children will already be attending school, so they will be perfectly placed to join and engage with community clubs that take place there. Not only this, but the abundance of available, affordable facilities created by schools opening their doors means that new community groups and clubs can be formed. This will help to create opportunities for children living with disabilities to engage with new people, and will enable them to socialise and develop vital life skills in a fun and relaxed setting.
With summer just around the corner, now is the perfect time for kids to get out of the house and become more involved with their local community – making friends and enjoying life to the fullest, rather than spending these sunny days in front of the TV.
For more information, please visit: www.schoollettings.org