Person playing with a beachball

A local project has helped harness the positive influence that carers and other ‘supporters’ e.g. family members, day services, residential homes and paid support, can have in inspiring people with learning disabilities to become more active.

The ‘supporting me to be active’ pilot programme was launched in Basildon by inclusive sport organisation Sport For Confidence in partnership with Active Essex, the county sports partnership for Greater Essex.

Basildon was selected for the pilot district due to its high prevalence of people living with learning disabilities (3,358 people) in relation to levels of inactivity (28.7% of the Basildon population).

Lyndsey Barret, co-founder of Sport For Confidence, said: “We have identified that people living with learning disabilities tend to have small support circles, which often includes family members, friends and their carers.

“We have been working closely with those within these circles to raise awareness of the benefits of keeping active. We believe that these ‘support ambassadors’ have an important role to play to encourage and inspire more people with disabilities to engage with sport and physical activity.”

Several carers from local residential homes and support agencies and were selected to participate in the programme as ‘support ambassadors’. The organisations involved included Papworth Trust, Essex Cares Ltd (ECL), Anvil House and Nexus Support.

Occupational Therapists from Sport For Confidence worked closely with participants to understand the value of physical activity and what they see as potential barriers to increasing participation..

Findings showed that ambassadors were most concerned about transport costs, staffing and people’s perceptions of inclusive sport.

The programme encouraged them to think about how they could overcome these barriers with the people they care for and develop a plan that will help them work towards a more active lifestyle.

Part of this planning involved a ‘supporting me to be active’ workshop, which educated participants of the benefits gained from keeping active, as well as highlighting opportunities to participate in inclusive sport and physical activity in the local area.

Karen Mannix, Local Business Manager at Essex Cares Ltd, said: “The programme has helped us identify a clear pathway to providing more physical activities to clients under our care. “Thanks to the programme, six individuals with learning disabilities are now taking part in at least one multi-sport session a week and we have seen tremendous benefits to the mental wellbeing of those involved. It’s great to see them enjoy themselves with their peers.”

Following on from the programme, four participants with learning disabilities themselves went on to become ‘All Together’ ambassadors to further inspire other people with disabilities to take part in sport and physical activity.

The All Together ambassador programme was launched by Active Essex to raise awareness of the opportunities, facilities and support available to increase participation in sport and physical activity.

Last year, Active Essex announced a four-year strategy to change one million lives to get Essex active. This included a key priority to improve health and wellbeing for those living with a disability or life-long illness which accounts for over 17% of the Greater Essex population.

Hayley Chapman Relationship Manager – North Thematic Lead for Inclusion at Active Essex, said; “The ‘supporting me to be active’ programme has shown how important the role of the carer is when encouraging people with learning disabilities to become more active.

“We hope that this model can continue to address some of the challenges faced by people with Learning disabilities in participating in physical activities and the workshop can be replicated as good practice across other districts.”