Female pupils post-primary schools across Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon packed into Craigavon Leisure Centre for the inaugural Girls Active Inspiration Day last week.

Girls Active is an initiative from the Charity the Youth Sport Trust, which is run in partnership with Women in Sport. Well established in England, the programme aims to tackle the declining participation in physical activity by adolescent girls and its associated implications for health, wellbeing and academic attainment. The programme sees teachers and girls working together to understand what makes girls fully engage in PE, sport and physical activity and then provides inspiring and relevant opportunities for all girls, not just the sporty few. Now, it is being piloted in Northern Ireland thanks to funding from the Department for Communities through Sport Northern Ireland.

Youth Sport Trust Chief Executive Ali Oliver said: “We are delighted to have extended our  Girls Active programme to include Northern Ireland. Girls Active is all about developing leadership skills in girls and young women, empowering them to plan and deliver physical activities that appeal to their peers, and supporting increased participation.”

Ten schools from the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council area are involved in the project, which will see girls involved gain leadership skills to help boost sports participation among girls at their schools. During the Inspiration Day, the girls learnt about the support that is available locally and the benefits of being physically active as part of a healthy lifestyle. The girls will now be equipped to sign post their peers towards activities that they are likely to engage with, aiming to develop positive attitudes towards PE and sport and give girls the confidence and desire to enjoy being physically active.

The Deputy Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, Councillor Mr. Paul Greenfield commented: “The value of physical activity in ensuring that everyone maintains good health and a good quality of life is well documented as is the drop out of girls from sport across key life transitions. This is a great initiative which includes all girls not just the sporty ones and I am pleased to see that it has been piloted in our Council area.”

At the Inspiration Day the girls took part in a range of different activities including boxercise and jive and had the opportunity to join workshops that focused on leadership, marketing and action planning. The action plans developed on the day will help the girls to offer new activities at their school which they believe will have an impact on the attitude of their peers towards being active both inside and outside school. When the project concludes in March 2017, it will have engaged with over 1,500 girls and it is hoped that that schools involved will continue to offer girls the opportunity to influence the activities on offer in school.

Ruth Holdaway, Chief Executive, Women in Sport said “Women in Sport is delighted to be working alongside the Youth Sport Trust to pilot Girls Active in Northern Ireland, which builds on our existing partnership. We believe that it is imperative that girls should be both leading and taking part in sport and physical activity in a way that aligns with their values and motivations. Through this project we are confident that we will inspire both girls and their teachers to think differently and make sport and physical activity appealing to all girls, whatever their ability, and a core part of their lives”.

Sport Northern Ireland Chair George Lucas added:  “Sport NI is delighted to be supporting the Girls Active programme as part of the Active Fit and Sporty project, funded by the Department for Communities. Young females are often underrepresented when it comes to sport and physical activity, and this Inspiration Day is about providing positive messages and ideas which encourage more of them to get active. It is great to see the collaboration between all the partners involved in this project and how enthusiastically the girls and their teachers have embraced it.”