Published on 08 December 2023
When University of Sunderland academics were looking to develop Sports Coaching students and trainee PE teachers’ skills and confidence in the area of learning disabilities and inclusiveness, they teamed up with Sunderland People First Community Interest Company (SPF) .
SPF campaigns to improve people’s lives and has championed the rights of people with learning disabilities and autistic people for over 20 years, they would regularly meet for a project called “Moving out of Lockdown at the University’s social and sports facility SU@CitySpace. But when the company lost funding for the project, and could no longer meet, academics came up with a solution.
John O’Leary, Senior Lecturer in Sports Science, devised a plan to help fund SPF advocates and learners by working alongside their final-year students through a new course module, Adapted Physical Activity. This offered the students real-world experience of working with clients of various abilities, integrating physical activity opportunities in a familiar setting at SU@CitySpace.
Meanwhile academic Dan Makaveli, lecturer in TV production, and founder of Media Savvy and Diego’s Joint, a Sunderland-based social enterprise non-profit company and café, offered a meeting space for SPF to run drop-in sessions for those who attended “Moving out of lockdown”.
Fast-forward two years later, and those students have now graduated, inspiring several to work in various Special Educational Needs Education (SEND) roles. SPF is also thriving as a company and recently presented John O’Leary with a Dedication to Inclusion Award 2023, for his continued support and driving forward connections for the group across the city.
John says: “SPF experienced knockbacks through lockdown but have shown incredible resilience to immerge from that experience stronger. I hope the collaboration with our students through the degree module has played a small part in that building process.
“This was all very much a team collaboration, but I’m honoured to receive this award from SPF. They are a truly amazing group of people, who were a privilege for our students to work alongside and learn from. Our hope is this the start of similar engagements with many other community groups in the future. We also aim to use this module as a catalyst to further incorporate inclusiveness and disability awareness throughout all our modules and programs in our future delivery.”
One of those students inspired by the collaboration is Daniel Mitton, 40, from Yeovil, who graduated with a First-Class Sports Coaching degree and is now on the Masters programme at Sunderland in Sport and Exercise Sciences. He says: "I was instantly embraced and treated as one of their own by Sunderland People First and felt very comfortable. It was a humbling experience that has further developed my coaching qualities and moreover, ever lasting friendships, within the community of Sunderland.”
Jordan Latimer, 26, from Manchester, is now studying a PGCE in Post Compulsory Education and Training (PCET), at Sunderland, specialising within SEND, thanks to the impact the Adapted Physical Activity module had on him.
“It was probably my favourite module of final year,” he said. “It was well organised and the hands-on experience with Sunderland People First benefitted all the students who went on to pursue a PGCE.
“It has also been one of the major decisions to teach in SEND. Each lesson was different and we had a vast amount of experience delivered to us. Each lesson we saw ourselves improve. I think everyone enjoyed.”
Lisa Clark, SPF CEO said: “All that we do at SPF is about inclusion and people with a learning disability and autistic people are at the heart of all we do. This was a great way of rekindling what we had lost with the Moving out of Lockdown project, so when we were approached by John O’Leary with this opportunity we jumped at the chance.
"Not only were people who we support getting the opportunity again to do sports activities, they were doing something that was totally inclusive. They were also helping students from the University to broaden their life and work skills, and why we chose John for the Inclusion Award.”
Through the collaboration, the University and SPF also partnered with Adventure Sunderland, a charitable Trust offering water sports and land-based activities. This culminated at the end of the module with all participants engaging in outdoor educational water-based session.
To ensure the collaboration was a success, expertise was also drawn within and from outside the university, which included Natalie Lyon, an Academic Tutor in Dance, Jen Chesterson, Senior Lecturer in Childhood Physiotherapy, Kevin Darke, the Disability Lead at the Beacon of Light, and Amber Clark, a Development/ Wellness Worker from SPF.T
AK teaching, a regional independent education recruitment company specialising in SEND, also supported the students, organising SEND placement opportunities in schools.