In March 2020 Active Schools teams across the country were forced to drastically rethink how they supported their communities. For the Active Schools team in South Ayrshire thoughts immediately turned to new and innovative ways to help people in their area.
The team supported some of the most disadvantaged communities in Scotland throughout the pandemic. They responded to the needs of the community by helping with food deliveries and helped school children across the region – including care-experienced and disability groups – to remain engaged in sport.
For World and European champion racerunner Kayleigh Haggo, her role as a disability sport project coordinator at Girvan community sport hub changed dramatically. The focus turned to trying to keep young people and families physically and mentally active through virtual challenges and exercises.
Kayleigh, 22, also worked one-to-one with parents who, with restrictions in place, were struggling to know how to keep their child active at home.
Kayleigh’s help for families in the area was to prove invaluable, she explained: “We started doing some active bingo, we did snakes and ladders challenges, obstacle courses and lots of different things the kids could do at home.
“Most of what we did in April was weekly challenges. At the time it wasn’t something we had really done before. It was so new to everyone.
“I got quite a lot of messages and emails from parents asking questions about physical and mental health, asking what they could do to help their child stay active. I worked with the parents individually to came up with plans about how we could do that.
“A good example was we had a young boy who went from being active three or four times a week to not doing anything. It really affected his legs, eventually his legs gave up on him and he couldn’t walk at all. His mum contacted me saying she was really struggling and asking what she could do to get him moving.
“We got him a frame running bike. He was able to go out on that with his mum and his sister to get his legs moving.”
Many people Kayleigh worked with were worried because their child wouldn’t be able to wear a mask because of their disability. There was some anxiety over what people might think of them for not wearing a mask. In response to this Kayleigh and the team supported the distribution of 140 mask exemption cards.
In November, Kayleigh moved from the hub to the Active Schools team to work in ASN schools and disability sport. Throughout the winter ASN schools remained open, giving Kayleigh the chance to build relationships with the pupils and for those young people to be inspired by a world record holder.
Kayleigh added: “It was a nice feeling. When I started it was ASN pupils or the children of key workers, so it felt very different. But it was a great time to build that relationship and work with them for a longer period of time.
“I’m always looking to try to inspire the people I’m working with, whether that’s children and young people, adults, coaches or volunteers I just want to inspire everyone that I’m working with. I think that’s why I love my job so much.”
Elsewhere in the South Ayrshire Active Schools team, Outdoor Sport and Physical Activity Officer Steven Noble and Active Schools Coordinator Ryan Douglas were faced with many of the same challenges as Kayleigh. In the first three months of lockdown they volunteered to be redeployed to deliver free lunches and school meals. They also worked on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) support lines, phoning people who were shielding to check they were okay and making sure they had everything they needed.
Ryan said the community was extremely grateful for the support, he said: “I felt privileged to do it, people were really thankful for your service. As simple a job as it was, you were just delivering a box to someone’s house. It was one of the most rewarding jobs we’ve ever done because the people were really in need of this food for various reasons.
“There were times when some families were due three boxes and they were saying that’s too much I only want two or I only want one. At some points you were going back around and giving those boxes to other families because they were struggling.”
In May 2020 restrictions allowed Ryan and Steven to go out to some vulnerable families and deliver sporting opportunities. At this point they started working with care-experienced people.
Young people who might be feeling socially isolated were identified by welfare officers at South Ayrshire Council and the Virtual Headteacher, who has the responsibility for improving the educational experience of all care-experienced children and young people in the area
This grew from football and tennis in the park, to night-time orienteering, canoeing and sailing as the Active Schools team put an increased focus on outdoor learning. Fourteen care-experienced young people are set to go through stage one and two of an RYA sailing qualification this summer.
In the last 12 months over 100 care-experienced people had the opportunity to take part in a specific sport while the number who were engaged in walking was in the hundreds.
Steven explained: “Getting them out walking was a really easy fix. To break down boundaries and build confidence, and basically ask them what type of things are you interested in? What do you want to do? From that we did orienteering sessions in local parks with families that were all care experienced.
“In terms of mindfulness and utilising down time we’ve used beach environments to have campfires and camp craft. Without outdoor learning we would not have been as successful as we’ve been.
“It’s been lovely to see a child who turns up and they need quite a lot of care and attention, all of a sudden they’re sailing a boat out on the sea. That’s the same across all sports, I think that’s why we do it.”
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