I wanted to find out whether sports centres organised activities to suit the needs of young people with autism and learning disabilities so that we can join in the fun.
I discovered a special disability charity in Tottenham called Kith and Kids, which organises football and martial arts sessions for people with special needs.
Kith and Kids has been running for 48 years. It was set up by a couple of friends from university who both ended up having children with learning disabilities. At that time they found there wasn’t enough support for families like theirs offering activities for children, especially during the school holidays.
So they set something up themselves. They would meet every second weekend to discuss the issues they had to deal with. Then they started organising activities and asking volunteers to come along and support the children doing drama and playing games.
Today Kith and Kids continues to provide activities and support to people with autism, including with employability. The charity is able to adapt quite well to the needs of its members, which is where the football team came about, to give members more exercise.
I went to interview Rich Pickup, Kith and Kids’ Employment and Life Skills Project Coordinator, at the Haringey Irish Centre in Pretoria Road N17, near White Hart Lane station, to find out more.
Max Ferreira (MF): When did you set up the sports sessions and what makes it suitable for people with special needs?
Rich Pickup (RP): The football team started at the end of 2011. Currently we have training sessions and at the end of each session we play amongst ourselves. We aim to have, at the end of each term, matches and tournaments against other organisations working with autism.
MF: How are your sessions different to the mainstream schools or sports clubs?
RP: Once we see what skill level the team members are on, we often start with walking football, just as a way of easing people in. There is a recognition that we need to go over the same thing quite a lot until they get it. Also, the novelty is we are there to support them to enjoy the social aspect of playing with the football team.
MF: What opportunities are there for volunteers?
RP: We do have volunteers who can come along and take part in the training, which is really important as they can support people with autism and also help to break complex tasks down into simple steps that are accessible for the players.
MF: What qualities does a prospective worker/volunteer need?
RP: The thing we always ask for is energy and enthusiasm: enthusiasm for the role and energy to keep up with our participants. Empathy is also a strong quality. Our volunteers need to try and understand how our members can deal with everyday life in various conditions.
MF: Do you organise any other sports and do they help with education or key skills?
RP: As well as the football, we do Sanjuro, which is a martial arts session if people want to do more physical contact work. Our instructor is really good at understanding the ability levels of our young people.
The sports we run are beneficial for people with learning disabilities to get involved in our structured sessions. It helps them to know what they need to do each time they’re on the pitch after doing warm ups. They also have the chance to get exercise and have the feeling of being part of a team with motivation, without being undermined by the best players.
MF: Do you only support local young people with learning conditions?
RP: No, people are welcome to join from outside the borough. It’s open for anyone who wants to join and if it’s not too far for them to come.
MF: How do people get involved?
RP: It’s a simple process really. They just need to contact us; either call or email me and then come along to the first training session. They need to meet me for half-an-hour so I get a chance to know them, what they would like to get out of the training sessions or being part of the team and what area they need extra support in. For the football team people have to be 18 or above to take part. The oldest member on the team is in his late 30s.
This was the first time I have interviewed a football coach in person, who helps young people with special needs to get involved in these fitness sessions. Rich Pickup seems like a kind and friendly guy who understands the needs of people with learning conditions.
I would definitely encourage young people like me, who are keen to play sports in a safe environment, to give it a go, being out in the fresh air and getting fit with the support workers.
You can contact Rich Pickup by telephone: 0208 801 7432 or email him: firstname.lastname@example.org.