On Thursday 7th December, Disability Sport Northern Ireland and Sport NI held a network day at Lough Moss Leisure Centre for all partners involved in the disability hub programme.

A range of disability sport equipment has been provided to each of the 11 district councils across Northern Ireland, as well as accessible water-sports equipment at four regional inclusive water sports ‘hubs’. This investment was funded by the Department of Communities through Sport NI and includes twelve sports wheelchairs, three track chairs, five hand cycles, four tandem bikes, three trikes, a Boccia starter kit and a sensory activity pack. The councils have appointed a ‘hub’ for their disability equipment where it can be accessed by all the community. This should allow for sports across Northern Ireland to become more inclusive and open up opportunities for the creation of more disability sports clubs who can make use of this equipment.

The disability hub network day allowed representatives from district councils, governing bodies and education authorities to explore how they will be involved in the disability hub programme. Part of the day was designed to allow the attendees to discuss issues arising and develop partnerships that could be formed in order to make the best use of the equipment.

DSNI Performance Sport Manager Elaine Reid outlined the disability hubs and highlighted successful disability sport initiatives across Northern Ireland. This includes the wheelie active programme, 3 goalball clubs and 7 Boccia clubs who play on a monthly basis in the NI Boccia League.

Brian Lenehan, Assistant Community Sports Development Officer with DSNI, provided his own insight into the potential impact of the disability hubs. Brian shared his own story about transitioning into disability sport following a collision playing GAA which left him visually impaired. He spoke about many of the “little things” which cause barriers for people with disabilities, such as asking for help, transport and fatigue. Brian commented that the hub programme means the accessibility of disability sport equipment will be vastly improved and this is “a real step forwards in putting disability sport on a par with mainstream sport.”

The afternoon provided a taster session using some of the disability hub sports equipment. Led by Judith Brennan, DSNI’s Active Clubs Co-ordinator for people with sight loss, the attendees took part in a sensory skills activity session. This involved half of them being blindfolded, whilst the others guided them to do several activities. The activities highlighted the importance of clear, concise verbal communication and certainly helped all to understand the difficulties people with visual impairments face in doing sport.

The second half of the afternoon saw some wheelie active games and a short wheelchair basketball game led by Danny Cooper, DSNI’s Active Clubs Co-ordinator for people with physical disabilities. Whilst having lots of fun trying out the sports wheelchairs, this highlighted the opportunities the equipment can provide for sports bodies to be more inclusive and make the council facilities significantly more accessible to people with a whole variety of disabilities.

Sport NI continues to work towards the Active Living No Limits vision to provide everyone with a disability the opportunity to access a sporting lifestyle and believe that the disability sport hubs will have a significant role to play in achieving this outcome.                                                                                                                                                                           20171207_141823