A Belfast judo program working with refugee children has been shortlisted as a finalist in the prestigious 2017 UK Coaching Awards, after being named Coaching Project of the Year at the 2017 Sport Northern Ireland Coaching, Officiating and Volunteering (COV) Awards.

Simply Judo Connects was set up by firefighter and former Commonwealth Games judoka Mark Montgomery after a group of refugee children visited his fire station at Springfield Fire Station in Belfast in October 2016. Through the project, Mark and his team of fellow coaches have used judo to help integrate and connect the refugee families to the local community.

Simply Judo Connects is based in St. Paul’s Primary School in West Belfast. The school’s student population includes over 50 refugee children from war torn countries across the globe who have all been removed from their homeland and placed in Northern Ireland for their protection from various civil wars and conflicts.

The project delivers two weekly classes for Key Stage 1 and 2 children, and ensures a 50/50 split between refugee children and local children to achieve its goal of improved integration through sport. It was named Coaching Project of the Year at the 2017 Sport Northern Ireland COV Awards, and as a result was put forward for consideration for the UK Coaching Awards. The project has now been shortlisted for Coaching Intervention of the Year at the annual UK awards, with the winner to be unveiled at a black tie ceremony later this month.

Founder of the club, Mark Montgomery said:

“Simply Judo Coaches are very honoured to have been recognised by Sport NI as the winners of the Coaching Project of the Year Award, and to be shortlisted for the finals of the UK Coaching Awards in London later this month. However, we are even more honoured to be in the very fortunate position that enables us to work, support and help these children and their families integrate within their new community through the delivery of sport.

We have witnessed first-hand through this integration project how the ‘new children’ and ‘local children’ do not see cultural diversity, they do not see ethnic origins, they do not see colour and they do not see religious persuasion.  What these 60 children do see are others to play and have fun with, which helps establish new friendships and build confidence.  There is also the by-product of a social outlet for the parents of these ‘new families’ each evening as they watch their children enjoy Judo – this was the vision from the beginning.

Sport NI have always been a great supporter of Judo over the years. Simply Judo would like to extend our gratitude to Sport NI for their partnership, support and enthusiasm of our initiative, which is another example of their continued commitment to community based projects.’

Congratulating Simply Judo Connects on their award and nomination, Sport NI CEO Antoinette McKeown said:

“The Sport NI COV Awards are designed to highlight the outstanding coaching talent that exists across Northern Ireland, and celebrate the great coaching work being done to help communities participate in sport. Simply Judo Connects is an outstanding example of this.”

“This unique project is bringing children and families from war-torn countries and helping them integrate and engage with the community through the discipline of judo. Not only that, it is offering them support, stability and engagement and an opportunity to interact with local children and make new friends. This project dissolves ethnic barriers and welcomes participation from all cultures to enjoy, engage and excel in sport.

“On behalf on behalf of Sport NI, I would like to commend Mark and his fellow coaches for the incredible work they are doing and the impact is it making in the local community. We are delighted to be recognising them through the 2017 Sport NI COV Awards, and wish them every success at the UK Coaching Awards”.

The 2017 UK Coaching Awards take place on Thursday 30th November.

Pictured at the presentation is Sean McNamee (Head Teacher of St Pauls), Mark Montgomery, Antoinette McKeown (Sport NI CEO) Emma Mayne, Ryan Mawhinney and Alan Curran (Sport NI).