By Kirsty Mulvey
I have been working as the Engagement and Research Officer for the Get Yourself Active programme at Disability Rights UK for two months now. This job involves building partnerships between disabled people, the physical activity and sport sector, and the health and social care sectors in each of our partner areas.
I have previously worked as part of the Insight Team at one of the UK’s 45 County Sports Partnerships, so I had a good understanding of the physical activity and sports sector when I joined the Get Yourself Active team. However, I had very little knowledge of health care and social care policies, or of personal budgets or many of the different kinds of disability benefits. Although I have nine years’ experience engaging directly with disabled children through a small charity that provides a ten day holiday for 20 disabled children each year, this is my first time working with and for disabled people in a professional capacity. I had a good understanding of the social model of disability, and was aware of a lot of the challenges disabled people faced in terms of getting active, as well as the broader obstacles disabled people face in their daily lives. Yet like many people I was oblivious to a lot of the issues facing disabled people. I knew I had a lot to learn.
My first month was particularly intense. During my first few weeks I visited our new partners and attended lots of meetings in the social and health care sectors. Getting my head around how social care and health care works wasn’t easy, especially as no two areas are the same. I’ve attended Disability Awareness Training, and learned about social prescribing, the history of personalisation, how personal budget are calculated, how to write a support plan and much more through Support Brokerage Training. I’ve learnt the terminology for ideas that seem so obvious, e.g. co-production. It’s such a simple and obvious idea that if an organisation is going to create a policy about a segment of society then they should work with them, using all intersections from that group.
I was attracted to the Get Yourself Active project because I believe that physical activity and sport is something that should be afforded to everyone, regardless of their ability or skill level. In Public Health England’s Everybody Active, Every Day strategy it is written, “If being active was a pill, we would be rushing to prescribe it”. It is widely reported that being active can help to improve physical health such as losing weight and improving strength, balance and fitness, but it also improves mental health. It allows participants to be more independent, see their friends, be part of the community, meet new people, be part of a team and be more confident. The benefits gained from participating in physical activity can also extend into wider society. For example, if someone is becoming more confident this might be the boost they need to search for the job that they’ve wanted for so long. Or if they have increased balance they will fall less and reduce the number of times they have to go to their GP or to A&E, therefore reducing the cost to the NHS. Although there are many economic benefits, being able to include disabled people in all aspects of society should be reason enough.
I’ve always had a personal interest in the barriers to physical activity and sport that women and girls experience, but since starting work on this project I have noticed that disabled people face similar, albeit still worse, challenges. Knowledge about where to go to find activities is the biggest hurdle to overcome. I know from some of the work that I’ve been doing in mapping physical activities in each partner area that there is a lot out there for disabled people, whether this be disability-specific sessions or inclusive sessions. The problem often seems to be that the physical activity and sport sector isn’t very good at communicating this to disabled people. It also recognises that traditional sports are not the right fit for everyone, which is why it encourages fun physical activity, including going for a walk or joining a local gardening club, is so important. This is why I think Get Yourself Active can be good, because we are aiming to join up the wants and needs of disabled people with the physical activity and sport sector, and the health and social care sectors.
However, Get Yourself Active isn’t just about opening up opportunities for disabled people to take part in physical activity and sport. It’s about giving disabled people a voice and empowering them to manage their wellbeing in a way that is right for them, working to break down any barriers facing them. We want to provide disabled people with the resources so that they have the freedom, choice and control over their wellbeing. This includes discussing with their social workers and having it written into their support plan that they want to take part in physical activity or sport, and use their personal budgets to support them to do this, if that’s what they want to do.
Having worked in Insight before, I fully understand the importance of monitoring and evaluating our project. This is why I am glad we are working with our great evaluation partners OPM to make sure that we are collecting the right information in the right way. We want to make sure that this project is replicable and proves its worth if we are to secure more funding and it is to be rolled out at a national level. It is also great that Sport England, our funders, are not basing the success of this project solely on the number of disabled people that we engage with and who participate in our project. Instead they are looking at the wider benefits that disabled people have achieved by participating in Get Yourself Active, including greater choice and control in their lives.
I’m looking forward to the year ahead, developing the relationships with our new partners as well as between disabled people, the physical activity and sport sector, and health and social care sectors, and I have no doubt we will meet our targets for year three.
Sport England’s Active People Survey (APS) results were released last week, and it is sad to see that the number and percentage of disabled people getting active has declined since the last APS results were released. This makes the Get Yourself Active project all the more exciting, and if this project is rolled out wider in the future it should contribute to the increase of disabled people taking part in physical activity and sport because they will have the support that they need to participate in an activity in a way that is right for them.
Part of my job is to keep a regular flow of communications to our stakeholders. This means communicating via Twitter, posting news stories and personal experiences blogs, and creating the new monthly newsletter. If you have any suggestions on how we can improve our communications then please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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