A group of young people with learning disabilities are taking part in a life-changing course and developing their leadership skills - all thanks to a partnership between Forth Valley College and the Falkirk Football Community Foundation.
Twenty-four young people are now more than halfway through the 18-month Centre Forward – Making Your Next Move course. Launched in January, the course pairs classroom-based learning with practical physical activity and fitness sessions at Falkirk Stadium.
Students in Falkirk are developing life and leaderships skills, their relationships and links with the community – and gaining a raft of qualifications in the process.
Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) units covering subjects including employability skills, personal fitness, problem-solving and working with others are included, alongside coaching and first-aid qualifications.
The programme was awarded more than £50,000 from the Changing Lives Through Sport and Physical Activity programme, which is jointly funded by sportscotland, The Robertson Trust, Spirit of 2012 and Scottish Government with the aim of changing lives and creating a more inclusive and healthier nation.
Tracey Higgins from Falkirk Football Community Foundation delivers the programme and has seen the students grow and develop throughout the year.
She said: "There has been a notable change in all of the students throughout the course – their confidence has increased, their body language is positive when they walk into a room and they are more engaged in sport.
"This combined with achieving SQA qualification has been instrumental in improving their everyday lives."
The course has also led to other opportunities which are developing the students into young, future leaders in sport.
Tracey continued: “The course has introduced students to volunteer roles and some have become ambassadors for Scottish Disability Sport and Forth Valley Disability Sport. All of this exposes the trainees to the practical side of learning and development and helps improve their health and wellbeing.
“There are lots of things the students would not be engaged in if it wasn’t for the course, like doing public appearances and talks and having access to the fantastic facilities at Falkirk Stadium and Forth Valley College.
“Another vital part of the project is the experiences students and employers will gain throughout work experience opportunities – it allows students to share with employers the daily barriers and issues faced by people with learning difficulties within a working environment.
"Everyone on the course should be proud of their own personal achievements so far.”
Steven Stone is one student excelling in and out of the classroom. The 19-year-old T20-classified athlete from Bo’ness was recently crowned British ambulant long jump champion and broke records when he won the Scottish 200m ambulant championship.
The Falkirk Victoria Harriers athlete is part of the GB Para Development Academy, with his sights set firmly on qualifying for the 2020 Summer Paralympic Games in Tokyo – and believes the course has been instrumental in building his confidence to compete at this level.
Steven said: "I am more confident to talk in a group of people and I feel I can read and write things better. I enjoy making new friends and it gets me out of the house, I also enjoy all of the different activities.
"The course has given me confidence to talk to people when I am at competitions and it will help me in the future. I have found out that I am more capable than I thought – it’s the best course I have ever been on."
Falkirk Football Community Foundation community manager, David Stewart, said: “We’re delighted to be working with Forth Valley College and all of the funding partners on this extremely worthwhile programme.
"As the community arm of Falkirk Football Club, we use the power of football, sport, professional role-models and a modern sports stadium as catalysts to create life-changing opportunities for people of all ages by removing barriers, promoting participation, improving health and enhancing learning experiences.
“We believe that sport can inspire people to make changes to their own lives, to raise aspirations and ambitions and to open their minds to new possibilities.
"We have created a mutually beneficial learning environment where participants and employers can educate each other on the particular barriers they face and strengths they possess, in order to improve future opportunities.”
Jacqueline McArthur, director of curriculum, business and communities at Forth Valley College, said: “We are very excited about the Centre Forward – Making Your Next Move initiative and feel it has the potential to make a real difference in the lives of people with learning difficulties.
“I am very proud of my colleagues who have worked very hard on developing the course and sourcing the funding in partnership with the Falkirk Football Community Foundation, and am confident that through working together, the results of the project will be very positive.
“We can’t thank the Changing Lives Through Sport and Physical Activity programme enough for their generous donation, which is helping to transform the lives of young people in the Falkirk area.”
Stewart Harris, sportscotland chief executive, said: “The Changing Lives Through Sport and Physical Activity programme exists to create positive changes in people’s lives through sport.
"The young people taking part in this one-of-a-kind course have a fantastic opportunity to thrive and learn more about themselves in a sporting environment. Scotland’s world-class sporting system is inclusive and aims to widen opportunities for all and we can see this in action in Falkirk.”
Centre Forward – Making Your Next Move classes will finish at the end of the year and the students will go on to work placements, with the aim of gaining meaningful employment in the sport and physical activity sector.
Find out more
- Discover the 17 projects funded by the Changing Lives Through Sport and Physical Activity fund
- Find out more about Centre Forward – Making Your Next Move