Northfield Boccia 3

Boccia brings mums together

How boccia sessions are providing a space for mums to connect in Aberdeen 

When the team at Northfield Community Sports Hub in Aberdeen were tasked with coming up with a session for a group of mums in the community, boccia might not have been the obvious choice. What started as a multisport session where the group would have the choice of what sport to play each week, however, quickly turned into a week-on-week boccia tournament for the women. 

Positive collaboration  

Northfield Community sport hub is part of the national sportscotland community sport hub network that is funded by The National Lottery and brings sports clubs and community organisations together to improve the contribution sport and physical activity has within communities across Scotland. 

Working in partnership with Aberdeen Family Learning for the past year, the hub in Northfield has been working to engage the families receiving support from Family Learning through sport. One of the key focus areas has been on single and non-working mums who face a range of challenges in their day to day lives. 

Whilst outdoor bowling sessions proved highly popular during summer, colder and darker months called for an indoor alternative to keep the women who had been attending engaged.  

Lead Community Sports Hub Coordinator for Aberdeen, Joe Coleman explained: 

“That is when we started the Northfield Social Sessions; just 2 hours set aside on a Friday morning in the Cummings Park Community Centre. 

“When we first designed the pilot, it was never intended to be boccia sessions - it was just going to be a multisport type of arrangement in which boccia just happened to be the first sport we took along.” 

A newfound passion

Although initially being met with a bit of scepticism from the group, Joe and his colleague Kyle Munro were surprised to see just how immersed the women became in the game.  

“There was a real tangible change of atmosphere in the room. It went from being really chatty to so quiet and you could see the competitive spirit building up.” 

Since those initial 4 sessions back in October last year, the group has been meeting every Friday morning to catch up and play boccia – they even have their own league tables! 

Space to connect  

Aside from the boccia itself, the sessions which attract 6-12 participants, aged 30+ each week, provide a space for the women to come together and share stories from their week. Joe explained that by starting after the school drop-off, the sessions allow the women to take a rare break from family life and connect with other mums.  

When the group arrives, they sit down for a 30-minute tea and biscuit break and do the same after their hour boccia session, allowing them time to catch up.  

Joe said: 

“Inevitably there are always stories about how the drop-off went, good or bad! I think those conversations can be really helpful as a way to share frustrations and relate to one another. 

“They also open up the opportunity to share advice and the family learning staff who attend often signpost them to various sources of support where needed. 

“The issues and solutions that come to the surface as part of the sessions are undoubtedly just as important as the sport being played.” 

The lasting impact  

One of the Northfield Social Sessions participants shared how the weekly boccia sessions have helped her mental health struggles and introduced her to a brand-new sport.  

She said:  

“I suffer from depression and have mental health difficulties. These sessions get you out of the house and help me get into a better mindset when I’m taking part. The sport is really enjoyable and was something I hadn't even heard of until this.” 

New opportunities 

Through the sessions, participants are actively encouraged to give new things a try and a recent development to the schedule has been warmly welcomed. 

When Joe got wind of a local Tai Chi instructor offering 4 weeks of free coaching to community projects, he wondered if it might just be the perfect fit for the group. 

For the past 4 weeks, the group’s tea breaks have been cut down to 15 minutes to allow for a Tai Chi warm-up and cool-down before and after their boccia session, provided by Aberdeen Tai Chi Chuan.  

“It has been incredible to see the group take on this new experience with such positivity.

“I was delighted to see the group doing these mad Tai Chi exercises, but the feedback we get is that it gives them a real feeling of serenity," Joe told us.

Looking ahead to the summer months, Joe and his colleagues are keen to get outdoors again and are planning to try some health walks and other simple activities. 

“We have tried hard to not over-engineer this set up. Of all the projects that we run, it’s a really simple one and I often find those are the ones that are most sustainable and have the biggest impact on people.” 

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