Last weekend saw the first inclusive grassroots disability hockey festival take place in Birmingham ahead of the Commonwealth Games – set up to allow disabled and non-disabled participants to play together recreationally.
Delivered by Midland Mencap, one of the region’s leading learning disability charities, in partnership with Access Sport and England Hockey, the festival welcomed over 100 participants for the latest showcase of England Hockey and Access Sport’s Flyerz programme, which aims to make the sport more accessible and inclusive for all.
The festival took place at Kind Edward VI Five Ways School, where the game of hockey was unchanged, but sessions and equipment are adapted where needed to ensure inclusivity of any disability or long-term health condition.
Running in the West Midlands since 2015, the Flyerz programme is a disability-inclusive approach to hockey which enables disabled and non-disabled players to play together, allowing the whole family to join in and be physically active.
With more than 50 clubs across the country currently running the programme, England Hockey believes the festival can set a strong example of inclusive practice and encourages more clubs to set up their own Flyerz programmes and further disability inclusion in club hockey.
Steve Bradley, Midland Mencap Coordinator, reflected on the festival which saw over 100 disabled and non-disabled particpants take part together:
“The West Midlands Flyerz Festival has been fantastic for anyone who wants to participate in accessible and inclusive sport – whether you have a long-term health condition, a disability, whether you have played before or not, and events like this are fantastic for participants and volunteers to celebrate how well they're doing.
“It shows everyone that participating in sport regardless of any additional needs, with a focus on grassroots participation and no pressure to play at a competitive level. We’re delighted to have enjoyed such a successful session with many new players trying out for the first time, and look forward to continuing our inclusive practice and inspiring more people to stay in sport.”
Oliver Clayton, one of the long-standing disabled players at Harbone Hockey club who took part in the festival, said:
“I really enjoyed this chance to play hockey with all my friends, although my favourite thing is still scoring goals! All of the Flyerz volunteers are brilliant, and the programme is great for me and others to play sport and have fun.”
Adam Bone, Changing Sports Manager, Access Sport, added:
“It’s been fantastic to celebrate and showcase Flyerz hockey with Midland Mencap and England Hockey in the lead up to this year’s Commonwealth Games. We want all sports to be inclusive as it very much should be a full representation of society, and you can see how positive sessions like this are for participants.
“Sport gives so many benefits beyond physical fitness – it improves confidence and mental wellbeing, so an inclusive approach is essential because it shows that sport is for everyone. Events like this are here to show that it’s fun and rewarding for everyone involved, and we’re keen to support any hockey club or national governing body to provide more inclusive opportunities for all.”