Mencap AthleticsA pilot programme that aims to make athletics more inclusive for people with a learning disability and get more involved in the sport has been launched.

The pilot, a partnership between Mencap, Special Olympics GB and England Athletics, is a reaction to research that showed that people learning disability face significant barriers when it comes to participating in sport. More than half (51%) of sports clubs in the UK do not have facilities for disabled people to take part in sports, and almost two-thirds (63%) of sports clubs do not have suitably trained staff. 

Additionally, almost 9 in 10 sport clubs in the UK have seen no change in the number of disabled people joining their club since the London 2012 Paralympic Games, according to the Olympic and Paralympic Games: Legacy Survey by Sport and Recreation Alliance in 2012. 

The pilot project, launched at Bexley Mencap, seeks to remove some of these barriers. The two-hour session, involving 15 members with a learning disability and volunteers from Bexley Mencap, consisted of a group discussion and a practical running/jogging-based activity. 

Participant feedback was very positive. One participant said: “That was brilliant! Can we do it again next week?” Another said: “I wish we could do this all day.” Meanwhile one participant made a life-changing health decision: “I’ve always thought I should start jogging and give up smoking; this has made up my mind.”

Sport for all

Ian Carpenter, national sport manager for Mencap, said: “We know that people with a learning disability take part in less sporting activities than people who do not have a learning disability, largely due to significant barriers. We are excited to be working with England Athletics to break down these walls and make taking part in sport a more enjoyable and viable option for people with a learning disability.”

Andy Heffer, director of sports and development director for Special Olympics GB, added: “Sport can have a transformative effect on the lives of people with a learning disability, giving them opportunities for enjoyment and achievement and participating in a sport like athletics also brings significant health benefits. We hope that this is just the start of many such sessions across the country.”

Tamsin Fudge, National Disability Manager for England Athletics, said: “England Athletics is committed to ensure that athletes of all abilities are able to participate equitable within athletics. England Athletics seeks to develop a focus on inclusion, to ensure that disabled athletes can participate as fully as possible in our great sport.

“The focus group and taster session with Bexley Mencap was a great example of how England Athletics, Mencap and Special Olympics GB will work together. This pilot will create the foundation for further collaborations nationally. Thank you to the participants and volunteers who made the session such a success and great fun.”

There are now plans to deliver regular running and jogging sessions in Bexley for people with a learning disability. Mencap Sport, Special Olympic GB and England Athletics plan to replicate this success in other areas across the country.