FEATURE: Does the Paralympic legacy live on?
Ever since Olympic and Paralympic fever took hold of the UK this summer, the word legacy has been bandied about like no other. Comet reporter Laura Burge went along to a multi-sport session for people with disabilities to see if the legacy will continue.
WHEN I went along to the session, there must have been a dozen – if not more – people there. But, I am surprisingly told, there has been no sudden interest as a result of the Paralympics.
In fact, this scheme, ran by Knebworth Badminton Club’s Philip Gray, has been going on for nearly a decade, with many participants having gone along for as long as that.
That said, Philip is still incredibly keen to get more people involved – whether they have been inspired by the Paralympics, or not.
“We want everybody to come. We’re totally inclusive, so could have some mainstream adults, too, but a lot get put off from people with disabilities which is a real shame,” he says.
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“It’s getting the message out to people that we are here, and that’s been our biggest problem. It’s just about people knowing where we are.”
The session I attended runs every Tuesday for two hours, but there is also one for people wanting to play badminton in wheelchairs at another session.
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While the latter sees many experienced players – including Stevenage Olympic Torchbearer and world number seven Gobi Ranganathan – the multi-sports session is designed for all abilities.
People of all ages and disabilities, including Down’s Syndrome, autism, degenerative conditions and those in wheelchairs, attend.
“They aren’t at an international standard, but people are enjoying themselves, and we’ve seen some of these guys over the years improve so much,” Philip tells me.
“One man was told he would never be able to walk again after being in an accident. He comes here, after doing lots of exercise at home and learning to walk with a frame.
“He loves coming, it’s an incentive for him. He’s done a wonderful job; for a guy that was told he would never walk again, that’s just amazing to see.
“One girl can’t do much, but she loves playing badminton. If you saw her, you would say she’s not playing badminton but for her, she is.”
While at the session, I even get chance to try some of the activities myself.
Having never come across many of the sports before – boccia (a Paralympic sport), table cricket and indoor curling, for example – it’s all a new experience for me.
I can’t say as I’m very good at boccia – Philip easily beats me – and the curling isn’t much better.
But Philip says that the sessions are not designed to be competitive, but more of a personal challenge for participants.
As well as taking part in the sports, they have certificates for achievement and work on solo and partnership skills.
“To have someone return a fluff ball for the first time; it’s incredible,” he says.
“They love it. We moved the sessions from Thursday to Tuesday a while ago, and someone was doing something on Tuesdays but he stopped that to come here. And he’s been here since the start, which is amazing.”
And the participants I speak to agree.
“It’s really fun, I like coming here,” Rodney tells me.
“I like boccia, because it’s a team game.”
Another regular attendee, Kim, adds: “I come here every week, and it’s good. We all get on, and I get to see friends.”
• The club, which does not profit from the sessions and often has to subsidise is looking for people to volunteer their time to help out with sessions, and is also looking to welcome more people to the scheme, no matter what their disability.
The sessions are held at Birchwood Leisure Centre in Hatfield. To find out more, email the club at firstname.lastname@example.org